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Georgia Legislature Begins 2007 Session

Outdoor-related issues that could affect sportsmen will be tracked and covered by GON throughout the legislative session.

GON Staff | January 26, 2007

Gov. Sonny Perdue gave his State of the State address at the capitol two weeks ago, outlining his budget proposals for the coming year. For the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), it must have seemed like Christmas all over again.

First, the governor is not asking for budget cuts, which means the Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) shouldn’t have to offer up a cut list that might include more law-enforcement, game-management and fisheries positions or services.

The governor also proposed $50 million in spending for land preservation. The purchase of new land — and making sure any new lands are open to public hunting — will be high on the list of priorities for conservation groups who are looking out for sportsmen.

Gov. Perdue made the biggest splash when he asked the legislature to approve spending $19 million over the next two years to start the “Go Fish Georgia” program.

The goal of the program is to make Georgia lakes and rivers more attractive to bass fishermen — primarily targeting large-scale bass tournaments — to drive economic development in the state.

In his State of the State address, Gov. Perdue said, “We have a long-standing tradition of hunting and fishing in our state, and last year, voters preserved that right in our constitution. Each year residents and tourists spend nearly $600 million on fishing alone, for a total economic impact of more than $1.5 billion. But we can do even better. We will turn Georgia into a fisherman’s paradise.”

The plan calls for construction of 15 new “mega” ramps that are capable of accommodating large bass tournaments — six to eight launching ramps, parking that can handle large crowds and a design that includes areas for weigh-in stages and spectators.

The state already has almost $4 million available that could make the Go Fish Georgia plan less expensive for taxpayers. The state was awarded $3.7 million in a settlement over PCP contamination in Lake Hartwell. Public hearings in the Hartwell area determined overwhelming public support to use the money to build a mega ramp, construction of which will now likely be included as part of the Go Fish Georgia program — if the legislature approves the governor’s proposal.

“With premier tournaments generating upwards of $20 million each, we know these are sound investments,” Gov. Perdue said of the mega-ramp facilities. “Fishing is a huge industry in the South, and we are behind many of our neighbors in attracting anglers. We will no longer sit by and watch as tourists drive through Georgia on their way to surrounding states to fish.”

WRD would take the lead in design and identifying locations for the ramps.

“Our staff are currently reviewing design options for the tournament ramps. Our intention, should the budgets pass as proposed, is to identify construction locations and begin the process of designing and building the facilities with the funds,” said John Biagi, assistant chief of Fisheries, during a presentation to the House Game, Fish and Parks Committee.
John also laid out other aspects of the program, including the Go Fish Georgia Center (GFGC), a proposed facility to be built along an interstate that would promote Georgia fishing to tourists.

“The GFGC will provide opportunities for the public to learn about the fishing opportunities across the state. This facility will benefit the state, regional, and local economies by providing detailed information on recreational opportunities across the state while at the same time itself being a tourist destination. Educational programs, [aquariums] and exhibits, museum and interpretive trails will all be under this facility with the underlying mission to increase fishing participation and promote Georgia’s fishery resources,” John’s presention said.

A third aspect of the program is to improve the quality of fishing in Georgia, according to the presentation.

“We’ve got good fisheries in Georgia, but there are limiting factors that if removed could improve upon what we’ve got. Increasing fertility on smaller impoundments through fertilization, improving temperature and oxygen levels in impoundments where fertilization is not appropriate, enhancing shoreline habitat in reservoirs and addressing limiting habitat factors in rivers could all boost our fish populations.

“We believe that pursuing three integrated components can drastically alter Georgia’s stature in the fishing world. Make fishing better, improve access and market the sport more aggressively. Progress in each of the three components is complementary,” said John’s presentation.

Legislation Affecting Sportsmen
So far, the legislative session has been quiet in terms of bills that would affect sportsmen.

Of great interest to deer hunters every year is the perennial introduction of a bill that would legalize hunting deer over bait. The issue has not come up in the form of a bill, but lobbyist Scott Tanner of Joe Tanner and Associates, who specializes in outdoor-related issues at the capitol, said it wouldn’t surprise him if a baiting bill is introduced again this session.

“I haven’t heard any talk, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. We had this big fight last year. Hopefully we can tackle some bigger issues now,” Scott said.

• HR 56: This resolution introduced in the House would urge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study the feasibility of raising the full-pool level of Lake Lanier by two feet, which would increase the available water supply by 25 billion gallons. Release of water in Lanier has been dictated of late by the Endangered Species Act because of mussels in Florida. Extremely low lake levels during summer drought months are a concern for recreational users of Lanier and because the lake is used to supply drinking water to millions of people.

• HB 143: This NRA-backed law would keep companies from firing employees for having guns in their vehicles in company parking lots. The proposal came about after employees at some companies were fired when their vehicles were searched and hunting rifles and handguns were found. This bill was introduced last year and saw opposition from business interests who don’t want companies to lose control over policies and regulations.

• HB 142: This bill would modify an existing law that protects nongame animals. The current law has a list of exceptions of nongame animals that can be trapped, killed, possessed, etc. The list includes coyotes, armadillos and 11 other species. HB 42 would add garter, corn and king snakes to the list of nongame species that are not protected. King snakes and corn snakes are popular in the pet trade, and the bill is likely a move to make it legal to buy, sell, or possess the snakes; however, it would also make it legal to kill them.

• HB 81: This law creates a $25 annual license for saltwater fishing guides, and it modifies the fee structure of a voluntary captain’s license that covers all of their clients, so the clients don’t have to purchase individual licenses. Clients on saltwater fishing charters are required to have a regular Georgia fishing license, but many tourists have difficulty getting licenses. Currently, there is a $25 voluntary license a captain can purchase that covers all passengers on his or her charter boat. HB 81 changes the fee structure on this voluntary “customers-are-covered” license to $150 for boats carrying six or fewer customers and $400 for larger boats.

• HB 100: This shrimping legislation repeals the current prohibition of modified cast nets used for netting shrimp in deep water. It would also repeal current language that makes it illegal to carry a food-shrimp cast net and a bait-shrimp cast net at the same time. “It streamlines and simplifies things,” said Spud Woodward, assistant director for marine fisheries with Georgia’s Coastal Resources Division.

GON will continue to monitor the legislative session and report on sportsmen-related bills in upcoming issues of the magazine. Also, if important legislation is introduced, timely updates will appear on the GON Web site.

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