Session Closes, Leaving Many Bills Dead
The ones that made it are waiting for the governor's pen.
The legislative session closed Friday, April 4, and just a few of the many bills sportsmen have been watching this year have made it to the governor’s desk for a possible signature. There was also some last-minute political finagling that killed one bill of interest to sportsmen and allowed one issue important to dog hunters to get through.
At the end of the two-year legislative session, anything that has not made it through to the governor at this point is dead, and legislators will begin next year with a fresh slate. Now, all sportsmen can do is wait and see what Gov. Sonny Perdue decides to sign into law. Here are some bills of interest that are waiting for a signature:
HB 89: This gun bill has come a long way to make it to the governor since it was first introduced on Jan. 22, 2007 by Rep. Tim Bearden (R-Villa Rica). The bill originated as simple legislation allowing gun owners to carry their firearms anywhere in their vehicles. However, through a series of amendments and substitutions, this bill has grown into a sweeping piece of gun-rights legislation that gun-control advocates view as controversial.
The bill would still allow gun owners to keep their firearms anywhere in their vehicle, not just in the glove compartment or center console, but the HB 89 that is sitting on the governor’s desk also includes provisions that would allow concealed-carry permit holders to have their weapons in some public places where they are now restricted from carrying. The bill would allow permit holders to carry their weapons at state parks, historic sites and recreation areas, as well as in establishments like restaurants as long as the sale of alcohol to be consumed on premises is not the main revenue producer in the establishment. An exception to this is that anyone carrying a concealed weapon would not be allowed to consume alcohol, punishable as a misdemeanor.
Also in HB 89 is the “guns in cars in parking lots legislation,” which pitted the conservative values of private-property rights and gun rights against each other, according to Scott Tanner, a senior associate with the consulting firm Joe Tanner & Associates. The compromise reached for this portion of the bill watered down its original intent, and only protects the rights of an employee to keep a firearm in their vehicle if it is in a parking area accesible by the public.
There were also several changes made to the process by which citizens apply for concealed-carry permits to help speed up the process, and there is legislation included in the bill that would make it illegal to bait gun dealers into selling guns to anyone other than the actual buyer.
HB 301: When GON reported on this anti-dog-fighting bill last month, it was hung up because of an amendment made to it before it passed out of the Senate. The sticking point was legislation that would make it mandatory for dogs confiscated under suspicion of dog-fighting activities to be spayed or neutered prior to a conviction.
Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) who tacked the amendment on the bill removed the amendment, and it has gone to the governor. HB 301 is the anti-dog-fighting bill authored by Rep. Bobby Reese (R-Sugar Hill) that is sportsmen and dog-handler friendly.
SB 16: You may remember this as the Senate anti-dog-fighting bill introduced by Sen. Rogers that was heavily influenced by animal-rights aka anti-hunting groups. Sen. Rogers agreed to drop his bill in favor of the House version two months ago, and SB 16 was left to die.
Well, Sen. Rogers did dog hunters a favor right before the session closed and allowed SB 16 to be used for passage of legislation that did not make it through. (See SB 520 below)
“Late in this last session they picked it up and used it as a vehicle for the dog-collar legislation,” said Tanner.
SB 520, a simple bill which would have made it a misdemeanor to take a tracking collar off a dog, stalled out in House Game Fish & Parks with resistance from Committee Chair Rep. Bob Lane (R-Statesboro). The original legislation in SB 16 was removed and replaced by wording from SB 520 in House Committee. SB 16 then passed, and now it has gone to the governor in a form that was presumably acceptable to Lane. The new dog-collar bill no longer provides for a misdemeanor offense for removal of tracking collars. It does, however, require the person removing the collar to pay the dog owner restitution in the amount of the value of the dog as well as associated veterinary costs.
SR 820: Now that this resolution authored by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) has passed both the Senate and the House, the structure of DNR Law Enforcement will be studied by a joint House/Senate group that will look for any changes that could be made to help the division operate more efficiently. This resolution could end up having a major impact on the structure of DNR Law Enforcement.
HB 1016: The “blue-crab” bill authored by Bob Lane now sits on the governor’s desk waiting for a signature.
“We are very pleased to see it make it through the hopper the way it was intended,” said Spud Woodward, assistant director for Marine Fisheries. “The (DNR) commissioner will now be able to set seasons for blue crab like he does for shrimp.”
Georgia law prohibiting the harvest of egg-bearing crabs, also known as sponge crabs, was set to expire later this year, and this legislation passes the authority to prohibit the harvest of sponge crabs over to the DNR commissioner.
“We want people to know that it’s not going to change things from the status quo,” Woodward said. “It’s just going to give us a little more flexibility.”
HB 239: This bill, another of Lane’s, which designates Australian sugar gliders — flying opossums — as pets and water buffalos as livestock, was amended with a small protection for landowners at the last minute. It would make it so that landowners cannot be held liable for wildlife that traverses the landowner’s property to enter a public roadway or right of way.
HB 1211 is one of the few tax-relief bills that made any headway through the session, according to Tanner. But this bill authored by Rep. Richard Royal (R-Camilla) has the potential to positively impact the availability of hunting land by reducing property taxes on large acreages that remain undeveloped.
It would establish a new program that private or corporate landowners can use to significantly reduce property taxes on properties 200 contiguous acres or larger as long as the properties remain undeveloped for a period of 15 years. It provides incentive for landowners to keep their undeveloped land rather than selling it, which could prove to be a benefit to those seeking hunting leases.
SB 382: This bill did not make it out of the legislature before the close of the session, but it is worth mentioning because of the current uproar over DNR’s decision to outsource license sales to Missouri-based Central Bank.
The intent of the bill crafted by Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) and Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin) was to give hunting- and fishing-license purchasers a $2.75 discount for renewing their licenses before they expired, a discount equal to the price of the fee to be charged by Central Bank for online purchases.
“SB 382 passed through the Senate then the House Game & Fish committee unanimously. As the bill was being prepared to go to the House floor for debate, Rep. Jay Shaw (D-Lakeland) amended the bill to remove the $2.75 renewal discount and to make changes to attempt to force the cancellation of (DNR’s) contract (with Central Bank),” said Tanner. “His action effectively killed the bill because there was insufficient time to appoint a conference committee to work out the differences.
“Legal experts say it is not possible to pass a law that could retroactively cancel the signed contract DNR had executed,” Tanner added.
HB 990: This bill is Georgia’s FY 2009 budget in its latest version after passing through the House and Senate. This version goes to the governor, where he is allowed to execute line-item vetoes but cannot make other adjustments.
In it, Wildlife Resources is budgeted to receive $37.5 million in state general funds. A positive for DNR Law Enforcement is $1.4 million allocated for pay raises to address retention and compression issues within POST-certified staff. The division has experienced staffing shortfalls because of conservation rangers being recruited away from the division by higher-paying law-enforcement positions in other agencies. Lt. Col. Homer Bryson, with DNR Law Enforcement, said he does not yet know how this funding will be distributed if this item makes it off the governor’s desk.
Notable in the budget are items not fully funded from a DNR wish list for enhancements. Even with fuel costs skyrocketing, the General Assembly did not provide any funding to help offset those costs for WRD. Also, a request to update the Law Enforcement Division’s motor-vehicle fleet by replacing 23 vehicles with more than 135,000 miles was only partially funded. The governor’s original recommendation of $400,000 was reduced to a goose egg in his revised recommendation, then $100,000 was added back in the Senate. However, according to the budget tracking sheets, this expenditure would not come out of state funds.
Another shortfall came in DNR’s request to fill 15 vacant law-enforcement positions for protection of wildlife areas. The governor recommended $675,000 to fulfill this need, but that figured was whittled to $450,000 in the House.
WRD also requested funds to cover a shortfall in funding for leased WMA land. The governor recommended $200,000 for this purpose. The amount was reduced to $100,000 in the Senate.
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