LD 426 was sponsored by Representative McCrea of Fort Fairfield, who was joined at the hearing by several young Amish men who testified that their religion forbid them from wearing orange because it is “too flashy.”
The amended bill, which won the support of 7 IFW Committee members while being opposed by 5 members, provides that a person with a religious opposition to wearing hunter orange may substitute articles of bright red clothing for the required articles of hunter orange clothing. The term “bright” was added to the original bill.
When the bill emerged from the IFW Committee, I was uncertain of its fate, given the divided committee vote and not knowing if the Governor would sign it. But the Department of Inland Fisheries support for the bill must have helped it through the House and Senate, and certainly led to the governor’s signature.
An extended committee work session on the bill demonstrated a real division on the issue. Senator Dave Woodsome expressed the principle problem when he said, “My concern is safety.”
And he backed that up with a story. In1992, the year before hunter orange was required, he was hunting with a high school friend when a shot hit the stone wall right beside his head. Another hunter, standing in the road, had seen movement and shot at him. “I stopped hunting for several years,” said Woodsome, who was really shook up by the incident.
Senator Michael Carpenter noted, “They’re asking for the opportunity to be less safe,” and noted the Amish, who live in his district “are very respectful of others.” He also noted that the aversion to orange applies to a “small segment within a small segment of Amish.” Some Amish are able to wear orange.
Representative Roger Reed said, “This is one of the toughest bills I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” reporting that he is very respectful of religions.
The committee’s House Chair Bob Duchesne, focused on the problem that the bill did not define red. DIF&W was directed to come up with a definition focused on nanometers and scale. But all they could come up with was the word “bright.” I’ve no idea how they’re going to determine if the red clothing is bright enough.
The enacted bill does not specifically mention Amish, but would apply to all hunters whose religion prohibits them from wearing orange. There was some discussion about how a game warden was going to be sure the hunter wearing red was doing that because of religion, but no solution to that issue was added to the bill. In fact, DIF&W Deputy Commissioner Tim Peabody emphasized that game wardens would not be asking hunters about their religion. Tim said if a warden did issue a summons for not wearing orange, the hunter would have to prove in court that his religion prohibited him from doing so.
There was some joking at the bill’s work session that I might step up to proclaim myself a member of the Sunday Hunting Church, where my religion required me to hunt on Sunday. I’m betting that would not get such a sympathetic hearing!