UPDATE - Bill passed Senate Judiciary Committee in a 9-5 vote on Thursday. A vote by full Senate is expected on Sunday. More on the story here.
Amid the frenzy of hefty budget bills moving in the Pennsylvania legislature comes a long- awaited piece of legislation aimed at protecting small feathered creatures.
The bill - set to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning - would make it illegal to shoot live pigeons launched from spring-loaded boxes, ending a practice animal welfare advocates call barbaric, but the National Rifle Association and those who participate in in it call a "shooting sport tradition."
The bill has never made to a full floor vote in either chamber despite more than 20 years of effort. This time though the Senate Majority leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) has signed on as a cosponsor of the bill.
The language from a House bill sponsored by Rep. John Maher (R., Allegheny) is set to be amended to a bill (HB1750) banning the consumption of dogs and cats.
The furor over pigeon shoots dates back three decades to the mass protests over the Hegins pigeon shoot, the weekend-long bacchanal in Schuylkill County where thousands of birds were slaughtered.The carnage drew national attention and lawsuits and the club ended the shoots at Hegins.
Dueling action alerts were send to members of the NRA and the Humane Society of the United States. The NRA said it is fighting to protect has launched a fight to preserve what it calls a "shooting sport tradition" while the HSUS urged its members to call their Senators and ask them to support the bill.
The NRA says "outside animal rights extremists" are to blame for the controversy but the HSUS points to its tens of thousands of supporters on Facebook who want the practice banned in the handful of clubs - including the Philadelphia Gun Club - that still host pigeon shoots.
Animal welfare advocates say hundreds of wounded birds suffer slow deaths because they are not humanely destroyed.
At a "tower": shoot at Wing Pointe Resort in Berks County - where birds are stuffed in a box and flushed out while hunters stand in a circle and shoot them - I witnessed wounded birds unlucky enough to survive within range of the young "trapper boys" being corralled, thrown to the ground and stomped on.
Attempts to bring cruelty charges against gun clubs have failed as local judges have ruled the shoots are legal until they outlawed by the legislature.
The NRA is waging a counter attack in the House where it is backing a bill by Rep. Mark Keller (R., Perry) that would legislate their legality by placing them under the regulation of the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
The game commission has said it does not consider the activity to constitute a "fair chase."
Click here for Philly.com's politics page.