Splitting Maine in half could end a blue-law ban on Sunday hunting

Splitting Maine in half could end a blue-law ban on Sunday hunting

This was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.

The Legislature is defined in part by bills brought back every two years with little chance of passage. For a long time, repealing Maine’s ban on Sunday hunting was one of those causes. Only Maine and Massachusetts bar Sunday hunting in a longstanding “blue law.” Lawmakers have tried to erode the ban 35 times in the last 45 years, according to a rough state estimate.

There may be a way forward in 2022. Legislative leaders from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to Assistant Senate Minority Leader Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, have backed some form of Sunday hunting, alongside the National Rifle Association and most Maine hunters .

Notable opponents include paper interests that own much of the northern land prized by big-game hunters from here and away and some guides.

Last year, the Legislature watered down yet another Sunday hunting bill opposed by Gov. Janet Mills’ administration over fears that landowners would bar all hunting if such a measure passed.

Lawmakers ordered the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to assemble a stakeholder group and survey Mainers on the issue. The results, from late last year into early this year, were fascinating.

It found Sunday hunting overall is opposed by most Mainers, with only 33 percent supporting it. Support rose to 45 percent if explicit landowner permission was required. Permission led to a big drop in support among hunters, but a narrow majority still supported the expansion. Requiring permission also led to an increase in support among landowners, though wide majorities in central and southern still opposed Sunday hunting.

The bill being considered this year draws a line bisecting the state from Route 2 near Bethel via Bangor to the Canadian border at Route 9 in Washington County. North of the line, hunting would be allowed on Sundays. South of it, landowners could hunt on their own property on Sundays and give written permission for others to hunt there. This approach is similar to a bill from minority Republicans that was defeated in 2021 amid action on other hunting measures.

This year’s approach will have familiar opponents. What is different is the state study that has now put the measure in the hands of majority Democrats. Sen. Jim Dill of Old Town, the wildlife committee’s chair, is the bill’s sponsor. The Mills administration may still be wary after the inland fisheries department said it was “sensitive to the concerns of private landowners.” But we are beginning to see how Sunday hunting may begin in Maine — a big north-south divide.

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