Sunday, October 20, 2013

Enhanced Pennsylvania Landowner Protection Passes Hurdle

Hunting is permitted on most of Pennsylvania's 1.4 million acres of state game lands and 2.1 million acres of state forest land, as well as thousands of acres in state and county parks. But most hunting in Pennsylvania occurs on private property with the direct or implied consent of the landowner.

Despite myriad disagreements, Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Harrisburg have long agreed that landowners who permit access for hunting and other recreation should be safe from liability should an accident occur. Pennsylvania's Recreational Use of Land and Water Act protects landowners who allow "free" access to their land from liability for accidents including those involving a firearm.

Under current law, landowners who sell access, including "deer management rights," might not be protected from liability even if the hunter purchased independent hunting insurance. Last week, the state House of Representatives unanimously adopted an amendment to a Senate bill ensuring property owners would not be held responsible for hunting violations committed by those granted permission to hunt on their land even if the landowner was paid for access.
State Rep. Neal P. Goodman, D-Schuylkill, said the act's previous landowner protections didn't go far enough.

"More than 1 million Pennsylvanians hunt, and the sport generates well over $1 billion in sales every year in the commonwealth," said Goodman. "Hunting is an important part of our heritage and our economy. But much prime hunting land is privately owned, and we need to take steps to encourage farmers and land owners to keep their property open to hunters. My amendment would do that."

The bill now goes back to the Senate. The original Senate bill was written to exempt property owners from responsibility for violations of Title 34, the state Game and Wildlife Code, committed by hunters granted access unless the landowners were willfully complicit in those violations. Earlier this year, Goodman and state Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon, introduced a House bill that further protected property owners.

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