Deer Baiting Bill Dies On 30th Day, Muzzleloader Scopes Could Pass
Two baiting bills die before floor votes during the 2006 legislative session. Scopes on muzzleloaders is closer to passage, and other bills go through legislative process.
Things at the state capitol were status quo in 2006. That is to say, they changed every few minutes, and staying on top of legislative happenings got harder as the session went along and bills moved through various stages of the lawmaking process.
Two different bills dealing with baiting, a carry-over bill from 2005 that would legalize the use of scopes on muzzleloaders during primitive-weapons season, a new deer-dogging bill, a measure to change limits on one saltwater gamefish species, and a bill that affects where sportsmen’s license plate dollars go were all among the issues up for debate at the state capitol in Atlanta.
The legislative session was nearing its end, but legislators were still working at presstime. Next month, we’ll round up sportsmen’s issues.
Baiting was the biggest issue of concern to sportsmen this year. GON readers have commented on it for months, both in these pages and online. The effort to legalize hunting deer over bait in Georgia seemed to gain steam in recent months after a specially appointed House study committee held public meetings in three cities to gauge public opinion on the issue. Baiting, which is akin to the abortion issue in terms of the passion of each side, has sparked debate that pits hunters against one another, and seems to divide the state literally down its geographic center. Two bills were introduced — one in the House and one in the Senate — but neither passed the chamber in which it originated by the end of the 30th legislative day, thus rendering each bill dead for this legislative session.
It seemed any way you measured, baiting had more support than anybody imagined. Two of the three public meetings on baiting, which were held in south Georgia, showed a majority of those in attendance wanted to be able to shoot deer over bait. In this magazine, more than 65 percent of sportsmen who voted said they supported the legalization of baiting.
On February 8, a legislative session that had — for sportsmen’s issues anyway — been dead, suddenly came to life as HB 1285, a measure to legalize hunting deer over bait, hit the House hopper.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jay Roberts (R-Ocilla), would have made it legal to hunt deer within 200 yards and in the line of sight of bait.
Stipulations in the bill mandated use of a feeder, and language said the feeder would have to be filled completely not less than every two weeks for the entire year the feeder was on a piece of property.
Who would enforce those regulations? How would they be enforced?
Those and many other questions were on the mind of a host of people who attended the House Game, Fish & Parks committee meetings on the bill. There were so many on hand to comment before the committee, which is chaired by Rep. Bob Lane (R-Statesboro), that they had to return to the capitol two days later.
A committee usually recommends passage of a bill it passes to the House floor, but Game, Fish & Parks was evenly split on whether or not to recommend House passage of the bill, so the committee released the bill without a recommendation.
The bill was placed on the Rules Committee’s consideration calendar, meaning Rep. Roberts had to request that Rules hear the bill. Rules is the gatekeeper of legislation, deciding what goes to the House floor for debate and a vote each day of the legislative session.
HB 1285 never made it out of Rules after Rep. Roberts withdrew it from consideration.
A bill that was introduced in the Georgia Senate would not have made baiting legal. However, it would have mandated a $25 maximum fine for anyone caught hunting any game animal or game bird over bait.
The bill, introduced by Sen. John Bulloch (R-Ochlocknee), would have allowed local magistrates the latitude to set a fine for baiting at whatever amount they wanted, provided it was less than $25.
Sen. Bulloch’s bill made it through the Senate Natural Resources & Environment Committee with a favorable report, but when it came time for crossover day, the Senator asked that the bill be placed at the end of the debate calendar meaning members of the Senate never heard or debated the bill, it never passed to the House in time, and it will not be passed this legislative session.
Phone calls to Rep. Roberts and Sen. Bulloch were not returned by presstime.
Other bills that affect sportsmen also were prevalent during the 2006 session of the Georgia General Assembly. March 22 proved to be a big day as several such issues, which had already passed the House, were passed by the Senate Natural Resources & Environment Committee.
Bills dealing with scopes on muzzleloaders and dog hunting, as well as a house resolution regarding the proposed Georgia Quail Trail, were passed as substitute versions, which means parts of the language, and perhaps what the bills accomplish, would be significantly different. After they go through the Senate, they are returned to their sponsors in the House of Representatives for what is called “agrees” or “disagrees.”
If a bill is passed out of one chamber and then is changed in the other chamber, the sponsor of the bill must agree to the changes. If the sponsor disagrees and the side which passed the substitute insists on its position, the issue could go to a conference committee.
For years, many hunters have been clamoring for a change in the law that says it is illegal to hunt deer with a scoped muzzleloader during primitive-weapons season. At first, debate over the bill centered on whether or not having a scope would preclude a muzzleloader from being considered primitive.
HB 338, which was introduced during 2005, the first year of the two-year legislative session, had very little opposition from the time Rep. Pete Warren (D-Augusta) introduced it. The bill was favorably reported by the House Game, Fish & Parks Committee in 2005 but was never brought to the House floor for a vote. Since the bill wasn’t defeated outright, Rep. Warren was able to recommit it in 2006.
The bill easily passed Game, Fish & Parks again, and passed the House of Representatives before going to the Senate. On March 22, Senate Natural Resources & Environment recommended passage of a substitute version of the bill. The substitute would also prohibit importation of deer or deer parts from a state where there have been documented cases of CWD. The substitute version also outlaws “internet hunting,” a practice that would allow a visitor to a website to shoot an animal using an electronically controlled rifle just by clicking a button on a computer mouse.
When HB 338 was on the floor, Rep. Chuck Sims (R-Ambrose) attempted to add an amendment which would legalize baiting deer when hunting with a bow or crossbow. House Speaker Glenn Richardson, however, ruled the amendments weren’t germane to the debate and sent the original version to the floor for a vote ,where it passed.
Efforts to legalize the use of scoped muzzleloaders have met little resistance in past legislative sessions. However, political wrangling scuttled the bill when lawmakers attempted to add amendments to legalize baiting or ease restrictions on dog hunters, causing the bill to get voted down before it left the House of Representatives.
The House would have to agree to the changes to HB 338 that were made while it was in the Senate, but that shouldn’t be a problem, according to Scott Tanner, a lobbyist from Joe Tanner & Associates.
“The changes to the bill come from two other House bills that didn’t make it through by crossover day,” Scott said. “It went to the Senate Natural Resources & Environment Committee that way, with Rep. Warren’s blessing.”
If the bill passes the Senate and is agreed to in the House, it will be sent to Gov. Sonny Perdue’s desk for a signature.
HB 1424, a bill that changes the way dog hunting is governed, actually passed through the House Game, Fish & Parks Committee. Originally, the bill said that dog owners participating in a deer-dogging hunt could not be charged with trespass if their hounds roamed across property lines in pursuit of a deer. What ended up passing out of the committee was different, with stiffer penalties on doggers whose hounds crossed property lines.
The bill originally called for individuals who owned dogs to pay a $100 permit fee to run their hounds, on top of the $100 fee required for a club to get a permit on a tract of land. The substitute version does away with the $100 permit fee for a club, and the $100 permit fee for individuals, and instead adds a $5 charge to the hunting license of dog hunters.
“The substitute went through the committee cleanly,” Scott said. “The changes to the bill were from the dog hunters themselves.”
The changes to the bill were made with the support of dog hunters from the Georgia Hunting and Fishing Federation, a group that supports dog hunting in the state. Wayne Hutcheson, president of the group, credits Reggie Dickey, who worked throughout the session on behalf of GHFF, with helping get the language of the bill right.
“Reggie has been up there almost the whole session,” Wayne said. “He’s worked real hard.”
Changes in dog-hunting regulations a couple of years ago have helped clean up the sport’s image, and Wayne believes hunters are to be commended for their efforts to keep dogs on their property and follow the letter of the law. In that case, why would GHFF even ask for changes to a system that seems to be working for dog hunters and landowners?
“We were trying to get some relief for the boys who hunt up around Fort Stewart,” Wayne said.
Wayne pointed out that several dog clubs around the huge military reservation in southeast Georgia had problems with hounds crossing onto federal property, and hunters receiving citations.
“There’s nothing but a plowed firebreak separating those clubs from Fort Stewart,” Wayne said. “No fence, no nothing.
“We wanted to get it so that those guys didn’t get ticketed every time a dog went across the firebreak.”
Wayne conceded he didn’t know how the bill would finally come out in the House of Representatives, and he wasn’t sure how hunters would react to it.
“The way it came out of the house committee, they had a double permit,” Wayne said of the original text of the bill. “I don’t know how hunters will react to any changes.”
He said how well measures worked would depend on how well dog hunters and DNR could work together.
In addition, a substitute version of HR 1226, a measure that would create a Georgia Quail Trail, passed through Senate Natural Resources & Environment as well. The resolution is meant to bolster tourism, timber and other industries through an economic development initiative designed to link quail hunters and those who own commercial hunting operations, which draw big business to some regions, especially southwest Georgia.
Rep. Lane, who sponsored the bill, says his idea is for plantations to sponsor a Quail Trail website through which they can advertise their services to hunters looking for a place to quail hunt.
Rep. Lane talked about a similar program in Alabama and said the Georgia Quail Trail would work similarly, and hopefully, better.
“They have a website where you can log on and look at all the preserves, and it will tell you if the hunts are guided, whether you can bring your own dogs, all kinds of stuff,” Rep. Lane said. “We wanted do something like what they are doing, but better.”
Scott didn’t see any real roadblocks to the bill.
A bill that would create a constitutional amendment regarding automobile license-plate revenue passed out of the House with an accompanying resolution to put the issue on the ballot during the next election. On March 22, the bill passed out of the Senate Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee with a favorable recommendation.
HB 1053, which would provide that tag revenue for many programs, including the Bobwhite Quail Initiative (BQI), would go directly to those programs. Currently, Georgians buying the quail license plate to support BQI are having their tag dollars sent to the state’s general fund. The program is allocated an amount of money to meet its budget, whether tag sales exceed that dollar amount or not. The rest of the money would then be placed in the general fund to be used as the legislature wished.
If the bill were to pass, and the amendment were placed on the ballot and passed, money from the quail tags would go directly to the program. Currently, sales of the nongame wildlife tags, those with pictures of an eagle or a hummingbird, generate money to run nongame programs.
Beth Brown of DNR said that when new tags are introduced, sales are high, but they level off because people only have to buy a license plate when designs change. She said when sales level off, the amount of money put into the nongame program is less. The same could happen with any other tag, including the wildlife tag supporting BQI.
By the time this issue reaches subscribers, the session will be over, and updates will be available in the next issue and at www.georgiaoutdoornetwork.org.
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