A bill was sent to the House floor Friday that will create a special type of hunting permit specifically for blind and visually impaired sportsmen.
The House Judiciary Committee passed House Bill 2597, which would allow legally blind people to hunt with the assistance of a sighted, permitted guide. It would also allow for the use of certain adaptive equipment, which is currently illegal.
“So in effect, we have the assistant acquiring the target … selecting the target, identifying the target, sighting the target, and then the person with the sight limitation is pulling the trigger,” said Delegate Rodney Miller, D-Boone.
As Lt. Col. David Trader of the state Division of Natural Resources told the committee, there is currently nothing in state law that prohibits a blind person from obtaining a hunting license. The thrust of the bill, he said, is that it would allow them to use adaptive equipment, like a laser attachment to a scope.
“The bigger issue here is the ability to use a laser, which is artificial light,” he said.
The bill passed 18-6 with bipartisan support.
Delegate Jason Harshbarger, R-Ritchie, co-sponsored the bill. He said he knew of a young man in his district who lost his vision in a hunting accident and now hunts with his father and the illegal use of a laser to help aim.
The bill, he said, would enable and provide regulation over an ongoing practice.
“I’ve seen this firsthand in my county where a young man has been visually impaired due to an accident and he’s no longer allowed in the woods except for when he’s breaking the law right now using technology,” he said.
Delegate Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, spoke in support as well, saying the bill would give the state control over an ongoing practice.
“I didn’t realize you’re actually allowed to hunt whether you’re blind or not, it doesn’t make a difference, you can get the hunting license, you can hunt now,” he said.
Merits of the bill aside, an undercurrent in Friday’s debate stemmed from the bill’s sponsor, Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer. Porterfield is blind, and has recently drawn national attention for hateful comments in committee hearings and in the media toward gay and lesbian people.
As such, Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, continuing a theme House Democrats have unsuccessfully pressed on throughout the session, offered an amendment to the bill that would essentially ask the DNR not to discriminate on the basis of gender, sexual identity or other characteristics.
On a motion by Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, the amendment was tabled without debate. In a post on social media, Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, questioned the optics of running the bill.
“By passing Porterfield’s blind hunting law, it’s clear the [Republican Party] is not only condoning his behavior but also rewarding it,” Fluharty said.
Also in Friday’s meeting, the committee voted down a bill proposed by Delegate Sharon Lewis Malcolm, R-Kanawha, that would create a new criminal charge, fine, and possible seizure of a barking dog who creates a “disturbing of the peace, quiet and comfort of any neighborhood.”Malcolm said she serves a rural area and introduced the bill, in full knowledge that she might be “jumping off a bridge” in a room full of dog people, following complaints of yapping dogs from her constituents.
“This isn’t a matter of dogs misbehaving, it’s a matter of the owners being disrespectful,” she said.
The bill was universally panned by committee members, many of whom own dogs.
“I’d hate to see any dog lose its life because of this law,” Pushkin said.
Only one committee member, seemingly tongue-in-cheek, voted for the bill on a voice vote. Woof, woof!