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Hot pink for hunters: Young sisters push for new law in Maryland

Brooke, left, and Paige Simonsen snack on cookies in the office of Maryland state Sen. Adelaide C. Eckardt (R-Dorchester). (Rachel Siegel/TWP)

For Paige and Brooke Simonsen, the day began in typical fashion. Paige, 12, took a quiz on the preamble of the U.S. Constitution. Brooke, 9, dressed for her school’s “twin day,” in which she and her best friend wore a bacon-and-egg costume.

But at noon, the sisters from Easton, Md., left their seventh- and fourth-grade classrooms for more hallowed chambers: The Maryland State House in Annapolis. They had a bill to pass.

“It’s going to be awkward, because it’s silent, and nobody’s talking,” Paige said before testifying Tuesday on a bill to allow hunters to wear bright fluorescent pink — or “blaze pink” — in addition to the more traditional fluorescent orange.

“But, we’re ready for any questions,” Brooke responded with confidence.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Adelaide C. Eckardt (R-Dorchester), is a result of lobbying by Paige and Brooke, who say wearing blaze pink is more than just another fashion option for hunters in the wilderness.

The color — already legalized for hunting outerwear in Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, New York, Virginia and Wisconsin — may actually be safer and more noticeable than orange, studies show.

Brooke and Paige attend Saints Peter & Paul School in Easton, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. In October 2016, they took a hunting safety course, in part because their father wanted them to learn gun safety. They were surprised to learn that the pink merchandise they’d bought didn’t meet the state safety requirement, which only permits bright orange.

From there, they started researching studies conducted in Europe and Wisconsin suggesting bright pink was a trusted second option — hardly visible to animals, who see color differently than humans, and clearly noticeable to hunters scanning the foliage.

The sisters then contacted Eckardt and met her at her district office in Cambridge to talk about organizing a bill.

“I grilled them and went through . . . where the resistance might be,” Eckardt said of those early meetings. “But every time I brought them some resistance, they countered it with their research.”

Such instances of children driving legislation are rare, state officials said, and usually involve something with little actual impact, such as creating a new state symbol.

“Lots of people may want to make change, but they may not know how to go about it,” Eckardt said. “These young ladies were curious enough and at that age, this is the perfect time to get kids involved.”

Paige and Brooke occasionally shoot clay pigeons but haven’t been hunting since completing the safety course. They say that given what they’ve learned about the relative merits of pink vs. orange, they’d feel better about heading back out to shoot if their bill became law and they could wear their bright pink clothing.

“If you had kids, and your kid wanted to go out hunting, and you found out that blaze pink is a better color, [for a] boy or girl, would you put fluorescent orange or fluorescent pink on him?” Brooke asked in an interview.

The sisters testified before the Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, which also heard witnesses speak on six other bills, including one changing audit filing deadlines and another allowing Sunday sales of motorcycles in Wicomico County. Along with their parents and Eckardt’s staff members, they stood out in their bright pink sweaters, hats, shoes and pants, amid what seemed like an ocean of charcoal suits.

“Hunting required — what is this? — outerwear daylight fluorescent pink?” Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore City), the committee chair said with a smile, before opening the floor to Eckardt, who is known in the General Assembly for her generous use of pink in her wardrobe, campaign materials and office decorations.

She spoke briefly about the bill she had sponsored before turning over the microphone to Brooke and Paige.

“Good afternoon, Madame Chair Conway and members of the committee,” Paige began.

Brooke told the lawmakers, “I would feel more safe wearing blaze pink than fluorescent orange when I am hunting in autumn.”

Matthew Hurst, 41, a family friend and outdoorsman who has red-green color blindness, testified that bright orange does not stand out to him in fall foliage “like they do to normal people with normal vision.”

“Pink would be more prevalent to me,” he said.

Before the hearing, the sisters wondered whether panel members would ask tough questions they wouldn’t be able to answer. Instead, the senators asked whether their favorite singer was the pop star Pink (yes), what grades they made in school (all As), and whether they knew Eckardt’s favorite color was pink when they first approached her (no).

The committee passed the bill unanimously. It is set to land on the Senate floor in coming days and is expected to pass — in January, Paige and Brooke secured the signatures of 33 senators supporting the bill, nine more than are needed to approve the legislation.

A companion bill is making its way through the House of Delegates.

Paige said she had mixed emotions after the committee vote — she was glad the bill passed but still felt her heart racing.

Brooke said she felt satisfied that “it passed just like that.”