A much pared-down version of the governor’s proposed Sunday hunting plan did not get majority support from the committee reviewing it, with members voting 7-5 to take it out of the budget.

The vote split the two Democratic chairmen of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee.

Rep. Thomas Watson, D-Bath, said mixing the Sunday hunting issue with the budget debate was “nonsense” and skirted the review process. Sen. Bruce Bryant, D-Oxford, supported at least limited Sunday hunting, saying it was sportsmen who pay for the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department through their hunting, fishing and boating fees, and they deserved something for their money.

The committee’s vote – taken last week – is just one recommendation. The final recommendation will be made by the Appropriations Committee, since the original Sunday hunting plan was in Gov. John Baldacci’s two-year budget proposal currently under review.

The governor had proposed Sunday hunting throughout the state for everything but shooting deer. It was seen as a concession to the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine – a powerful hunters’ lobby – which wanted something in return for the $3 across-the-board hike in hunting and fishing fees being used to plug holes in the IF&W’s budget.

When it became clear that public sentiment was running strongly against the governor’s proposal, SAM’s Director George Smith proposed allowing Sunday hunting in the unorganized territories in northern Maine and on a person’s own property statewide, during all hunting seasons.

That compromise got pared down to allow Sunday hunting only in the northern territories and only for small game. Despite the changes, half the committee wasn’t buying it.

Watson, a hunter himself, said the issue that was angering people was not Sunday hunting, but the fact it had not being given a thorough public airing. He said that anger would translate into a referendum movement to ban hunting altogether or a defacto ban through increased posting.

“I have no opposition to Sunday hunting in general,” Watson said, but putting it in the budget was “seen as an end run” around the process. He said there were a half dozen bills coming up for Sunday hunting, aside from the governor’s proposal, and the issue would be considered again.

He also balked at the suggestion of just giving it to the Appropriations Committee to sort through, calling that “the coward’s way out.”

Rep. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro, said “this so-called compromise” before the committee was not something hammered out among members. “It’s the first time I’ve seen it.”

Trahan too said the review process had been short-changed. “So many voices are being stifled,” he said. “This is not good process.”

“I’m not fighting against the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine,” he said. “I’m fighting for sportsmen.”

Sen. Bryant said the public protests were being fueled by the media coverage of them, and they would quiet down. “Sunday shopping was such a tussle,” he said, but the state got through that, and it would be the same with Sunday hunting.

While the Democrats divided on the issue, Republicans were united in opposition to the governor’s plan.

Watson was joined by Sen. Joseph Perry, D-Penobscot, and Republicans Richard Cebra of Naples, Sen. Chandler Woodcock of Franklin, Rep. Earl Richardson of Greenville, Rep. David Richardson of Carmel and Rep. Trahan of Waldoboro.

Voting with Bryant were all Democrats – Rep. Jacqueline Lundeen of Mars Hill, Rep. Walter Wheeler of Kittery, Rep. Troy Jackson of Fort Kent and Rep. Mark Bryant of Windham, the chairman’s brother. Rep. Stan Moody, D-Manchester, was absent.