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GEORGIA LEGISLATURE Sportsmen’s Update

The effort to promote hunting, fishing and conservation to Georgia youth will get a big boost through the SEEDS license plate.

GON Staff | March 1, 2007

Last month, GON’s legislative coverage detailed proposals introduced by Gov. Sonny Perdue to spend $50 million for land preservation and $19 million over the next two years to start the Go Fish Georgia program (see the February issue, page 24).

Despite some media sniping at the governor’s proposal to make Georgia lakes and rivers more attractive to bass fishermen — primarily targeting large-scale bass tournaments to drive economic development in the state — the boat-ramp proposal appeared to have a good chance of making it through the legislative budget process to receive funding.

But last week, as legislators closed in on the time for them to hammer out a budget, a looming $58 million short-fall in federal funding for PeachCare, which subsidizes healthcare for children whose parents can’t afford insurance, threatens both the Go Fish Georgia proposal and the $50 million for land preservation. If the federal government doesn’t come up with funds to cover the shortfall, all bets are off on what will hit the chopping block from Georgia’s state budget. The governor’s Go Fish Georgia proposal appears to be a favorite target. An environmental group last week issued an alert to its members that the $50 million proposal for land preservation was also at risk because of the PeachCare shortfall.

Noteworthy at the capitol this legislative session has been the presence of the newly formed Georgia Ranger Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge, whose members are post-certified DNR law-enforcement officers. Twice this session, a large contingent from DNR Law Enforcement has traveled to the capitol seeking help with salary issues that are taking a toll on morale among Georgia’s rangers (see page 64).

The issue of DNR’s budget, specifically how it affects the Law Enforcement, Fisheries, and Game Management sections of the Wildlife Resources Division (WRD), is an on-going thorn in the side of sportsmen who have always paid for the bulk of those budgets through license fees, yet have continued to see staff and services cut during the budget process.

Meanwhile, conservation groups continue to keep an eye on proposed laws that could affect hunting, fishing and gun rights in Georgia.

So far, it has been a quiet legislative session for sportsmen’s issues, but there are several bills that GON has been tracking.

Legislation Affecting Sportsmen

• HB 485: If this bill passes, sportsmen will be able to purchase a specialty license plate in Georgia with proceeds benefitting youth hunting and fishing programs for Georgia youngsters. SEEDS, the youth program of the GONetwork, would receive $10 for every $25 SEEDS license plate that is sold. SEEDS stands for Sportsmanship, Ethics, Education, Dedication, and Service. The SEEDS youth program focuses on molding young people into our future outdoorsmen and women. One way is by providing hunting and fishing trips for boys and girls aged 17 and under. Last year more than 330 hunting and fishing trips were provided to kids through the SEEDS program. SEEDS also promotes hands-on conservation efforts, such as the recent Henry County project where more than 40 kids helped build and put out 127 wood-duck boxes (see page 118).

For more information on the many SEEDS efforts and the special benefits that the program offers to Georgia youth, go to <www.georgiaoutdoornetwork.org/seeds>.

• HB 466: This bill allows hunting deer over bait for landowners who implement a quality-deer-management program. It creates a $20 permit for quality-deer-management programs on private land with stipulations: a management plan must be approved by a wildlife biologist; all 1 1/2-year-old bucks must be protected from harvest, except it allows for harvest of cull bucks; it specifies minimum and maximum doe harvest; it requires a year-round feeding program of “high-quality protein” feed; it requires hunters to purchase a special stamp, and it also requires a private or commercial shooting preserve license for the landowner.

The Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) has voiced opposition to HB 466, citing a general opposition to hunting deer over bait in Georgia, but also opposing the quality-deer-management aspects of the bill.

A letter co-signed by QDMA Executive Director Brian Murphy and Joe Hamilton, director of education and outreach, described the quality-management provisions as “unnecessary, cumbersome and unenforceable,” and said the requirements under the proposed law would “place undue burden on the Wildlife Resources Division’s already strained biological and enforcement staff, especially considering they are unnecessary given that those interested in practicing quality deer management in Georgia can easily do so now under current regulations.”

The bill has been assigned to the House Committee on Game, Fish & Parks, which at presstime had taken no action.

• HB 143: Still not passed by the House, this NRA-backed law would keep companies from firing employees for having guns in the vehicles. The law proposal came about after employees at some Florida companies were fired when their vehicles were searched and hunting rifles and handguns were found.

• SB 16: This dog-fighting legislation has the smell and taste of animal-rights groups with the inclusion of banning training for dog racing and language that could be open for interpretation that could affect training for hunting dogs. On January 22, this bill was committed to Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee.

• HB 301: Another proposed law to deal with dog fighting, this House version lacks the animal-rights influence and wording, thus drawing the support of at least one organization that is concerned with the language of SB 16. The Georgia Hunting and Fishing Federation (GHFF) issued an alert to its members asking them to support HB 301 while opposing SB 16.

• HR 56: This resolution has already passed by a House vote of 153 to 0. It urges the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study the feasibility of raising the full-pool level of Lake Lanier by two feet to increase the available water supply by 25 billion gallons.

• 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 142 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. The House has not voted on the legislation.

• 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. The House chamber passed HB 81 by a vote of 158 to 3, and it has moved to the Senate.

• 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.

The House passed the bill February 8 by a vote of 156 to 10, and it has moved to the Senate and was referred to committee.

GON will continue to monitor the legislative session and report on sportsmen-related bills in upcoming issues of the magazine.

If important legislation is introduced or an issue arises, timely updates will appear on the GON Web site at <www.gon.com>.

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