By Tyler Woodall and Julie Rothey
Capital News Service for Culpeper Times
RICHMOND – About 150 hunters and members of the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance turned out at the Virginia Capitol on Tuesday to show their displeasure with a bill that would fine the owners of dogs that trespass on other people’s property.
House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, is sponsoring HB 1900, which would impose a $100 fine if a dog runs at large on property where the owner has given notice verbally, in writing, by placing signs or by marking trees with blue paint on the property line.
The speakers who addressed the passionate crowd adorned in blaze-orange hunting caps included H. Kirby Burch, the CEO of the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance; Jeff Sili, a member of the Caroline County Board of Supervisors; and recently elected state Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg.
“Your participation sends a message that you care, that you are watching, and you do pay attention,” Burch told the crowd as the rally began with a few hoots and hollers from the members.
Burch said the bill would penalize accidental trespassing by hunting dogs.
Peake guaranteed the crowd that he will vote against the bill if it makes it past the House and will stand up to anyone to protect hunting rights.
Sili also said the bill is flawed. “A point that is lost in all of this,” he said is that “law enforcement is not prepared to take on what this is going to cause, because it will become a tool among neighbors who don’t like their neighbor’s dog in their yard. It’s not just a hunting issue.”
Nearly all the speakers said the bill is wrongfully aimed at hunters.
“I have no redeeming graces for the bill,” Burch said in an interview after the rally. “It is a bill to do harm because someone has an agenda.”
Users of hunting dogs “want people to understand we’re God-fearing, law-abiding citizens,” Burch said. “We’re not rednecks, we’re not troublemakers and we care about our animals.”
Theresa Miller, who with her husband owns Red Oak Foxhounds hunt club in Rawlings, echoed Burch’s message.
“You cannot fault the whole deer hunting community because of the actions of a few people,” Miller said.
HB 1900 is awaiting action by the House Rules Committee, which Howell chairs.
Under current law, it’s a misdemeanor to intentionally release dogs on another person’s land to hunt without the consent of the landowner. However, finding a dog on another’s property is not enough evidence to prove the intentional release of that animal.
If a hunting dog strays onto another person’s property, the hunter has the “right to retrieve” the animal. This applies even if the hunter has been previously asked not to trespass. Landowners have been pushing for a repeal to the “right to retrieve” law.
“The ‘right to retrieve’ law is an unconstitutional law,” said Donald Wright, a landowner in the town of Virgilina in Halifax County. He supports HB 1900, saying the bill “restores property rights to people like me.”
The Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance argued in a press release that conversations need to happen between neighbors before regulations are introduced. But Wright, a hunter himself, said he has tried that.
“I’ve been told, ‘You’re not from around here, you’re the problem, get used to it,’” he said. Wright stressed that he doesn’t want to see dog hunting done away with. “It’s just the bad apples.”
Landowners have complained about hunting dogs on their property, and hunters following them, in the past. The Virginia Landowners Association is pushing for stricter licensing regulations for dog hunters.
“I’m not able to enjoy my land. There’s dogs are on my property almost every day,” Aaron Bumgarner, executive director of the landowners association, said in an interview with the Tidewater News. “I can’t take my own two dogs out on my land without conflict during the general [hunting] season and even during spring turkey season.”
From July 2014 to June 2015, about 5 percent of hunting complaints in Virginia involved dogs, according to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
Bill would exempt fracking chemicals from FOIA (Freedom of Information Act)
Editor’s note: The Virginia Press Association is opposed to this bill.
By Tyler Hammel
Capital News Service for Culpeper Times
RICHMOND – Open government advocates are alarmed at a legislative subcommittee’s approval of a bill that would hide from the public record the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.
Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said House Bill 1678 would violate the public’s right to know about possible environmental and health hazards posed by fracking, in which liquids are injected into the ground to extract oil or gas.
“They would shield information from the public and local government and would jeopardize their ability to monitor public health,” Rhyne said.
Last week, a subcommittee of the House General Laws Committee voted 4-3 to recommend approval of the bill, which was sponsored by Del. Roxann Robinson, R-Midlothian. If the full committee agrees, the measure will go to the House floor for consideration.
Robinson, who introduced a similar bill last year, said the bill is intended to protect trade secrets of companies that use hydraulic fracturing, which involves pumping large amounts of water and chemicals into the ground to break open rock formations containing natural gas and oil.
The bill would exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information Act “chemical ingredient names, the chemical abstracts number for a chemical ingredient, or the amount or concentration of chemicals or ingredients used to stimulate a well.”
Robinson noted that her measure includes exceptions for health care providers and first responders in the event of an emergency. They would be able to access the information about chemicals from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.
“The industry has been fracking in Virginia for decades without any disclosure requirements and with a remarkable record of safe natural gas production,” Robinson said.
At last Thursday’s subcommittee meeting, Miles Morin, executive director of the Virginia Petroleum Council, spoke in favor of the bill. He said it strikes a balance between protecting the industry’s secrets while maintaining full disclosure to regulators.
“With this protection, Virginia would still have one of the strongest chemical disclosure requirements in the country,” Morin said.
Fracking has attracted attention in recent years for potential pollution in places such as Pavillion, Wyoming, where former EPA scientist Dominic DiGiulio published a report connecting contaminated water to fracking waste.
Opponents of Robinson’s bill, including Travis Blankenship of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, said the measure would prevent landowners from knowing about chemicals that could affect their well water.
“We feel this legislation goes far beyond protecting the competitive trade secrets the legislation attempts to get at and actively prevents landowners from knowing chemicals affecting their drinking water,” Blankenship said.
Another opponent, Emily Francis of the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the bill would put trade secrets in a black box hidden from citizens and could pose dangers for local governments.
“Specifically, we are concerned that localities would not have access to this information ahead of time in order to prepare for any potential accident,” Francis said.
The bill contains language that would allow for emergency personnel and first responders to be informed of the chemicals used in fracking in the event of an emergency. But Rhyne fears this would not give first responders enough time to prepare and would put them at risk.
“This is not quite the same, but in 9/11 there were so many people exposed to the chemicals in fluorescent light bulbs that exploded during the towers’ collapse,” Rhyne said. “You’re exposed to chemicals, and then you develop illnesses later.”
Robinson has a similar bill, HB 1679, scheduled to be heard by the Natural Resources Subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources.
HB 1679 would require fracking chemicals exempted under HB 1678 to be disclosed to the director of the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. It would allow the director to disclose the chemical information to state and local officials assisting in an emergency but would prevent further dissemination.
Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Lebanon, has filed two virtually identical bills in the Senate. SB 1291 has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources, and SB 1292 to the Senate Committee General Laws and Technology.