State Politics

Sunday hunting in NC up for debate in General Assembly

N.C. House members debated a proposal to allow hunting on Sundays, with some legislators worried the practice would create noise and safety concerns for churches.

House Bill 640, titled the “Outdoor Heritage Act,” would allow Sunday hunting – but only on private property. The bill passed the House Wildlife Resources Committee on Wednesday in a 10-3 vote. Chasing deer with dogs and hunting migratory waterfowl would still be illegal on Sundays.

The hunting debate was one of dozens of agenda items before the House and its committees Wednesday as major legislative deadlines approach. The House was in session for more than three hours, adding bills to the calendar that had been discussed in committees hours before. Eleven House committees met Wednesday, addressing some of 207 bills filed the day before.

Among the topics: a proposed ban on powdered alcohol, a new economic development loan fund and even the Clay County “Possum Drop,” a New Year’s event.

All House bills not dealing with money must be filed by Thursday, and any legislation that hasn’t been passed in one chamber by an April 30 “crossover deadline” isn’t suppossed to become law this session.

Speaker Tim Moore said Wednesday’s busy schedule is just a taste of what’s to come. “We will probably have session late into the evening several days next week to get our work done,” he told legislators.

With that deadline pressure, the debate on Sunday hunting was cut to 30 minutes to give legislators time to rush to the next meeting.

The hunting bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Jimmy Dixon of Warsaw, said it’s time for North Carolina to join 39 other states in ending a centuries-old ban on Sunday hunting.

“All we are doing is practicing some good old property rights,” he said. “If I want to hunt on my own land on Sunday, why are there any of you in this room to tell me I can’t do it?”

Dixon pointed out the related activities that are already legal on Sundays. “We’ve had Sunday hunting for a long time – you can fox hunt on Sunday, you can hunt fish with a hook on Sunday, you can shoot skeet,” he said.

But several House members said the rule change is unpopular in their rural counties. They said they’re concerned about the impact on church services, and they weren’t swayed by a provision that would ban hunting within 300 yards of a church.

Rep. William Brisson, a Democrat from Bladen County, said that “300 yards sounds like a long ways, but with a high-powered rifle it’s not long enough. You don’t know where that bullet’s going to end up.”

But Rep. Charles Jeter, a Republican from Huntersville, dismissed the safety concerns. “There is no case we know of where a bullet has been discharged and hit someone at a church,” he said. “The safety argument to me is a red herring.”

Rep. Bob Steinburg, a Republican from Edenton, unsuccessfully tried to exempt the counties in his district from the bill.

“I have never seen such an outcry in my district,” Steinburg said. “I’m just a little tired of those things that we have valued in this nation for so long being whittled away, one thing after another.”

Supporters of the bill say allowing hunting seven days a week will draw more tourism to the state. “From an economic development standpoint, we lose money because hunting is not allowed in North Carolina on Sunday,” said Rep. Jay Adams, a Republican from Hickory.

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Also in the House

Powdered alcohol: The N.C. House Alcoholic Beverage Control Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to ban powdered alcohol in the state.

Sold under the brand name Palcohol, the product was approved by federal regulators last year. It comes in packets that can be poured into other beverages to make mixed drinks. It can also be snorted, allowing consumers to get drunk within minutes.

“It’s obvious what the concerns would be if we should have powdered alcohol being sold,” said Rep. Shelly Willingham, the Rocky Mount Democrat who sponsored the bill banning it. “It’s like making Kool-Aid. Anybody can do it.”

Possum Drop: A 94-18 House vote Wednesday backed a bill to suspend all state wildlife regulations related to opossums for five days each year – a move designed to combat legal challenges to an offbeat New Year’s Eve celebration in Clay County.

House Bill 574 would suspend all wildlife protections for opossums throughout the state from Dec. 29 to Jan. 2 each year. The animal rights group PETA sued last year to block a similar law that limited that exemption to Clay County, where revelers ring in the New Year by lowering a live opossum in a cage.

“With all the interest we had in the Possum Drop, we wanted to share it with the rest of the state,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Roger West, a Republican who represents Clay County.

But Democratic Rep. Pricey Harrison of Greensboro said the bill would open the door for other actions involving the animal. She said opossums could be “tortured, burned or skinned alive by anyone in this state” during the five-day period.