2017 Georgia Legislative Session: House Passes License Fee Increase

Legislation being considered that would lengthen deer season statewide; more gun laws considered.

Today, March 3, is Crossover Day at the Georgia state capitol. This is the last day for a piece of legislation to pass the chamber in which it was introduced for it to be considered by the other chamber. Any legislation that doesn’t get voted on and approved by either the state House or state Senate is dead for the year. Among today’s news from the capital is the state House’s passage of House Bill 280, the Campus Carry legislation.

The General Assembly adjourns the legislative session on the 40th legislative day, which this year is scheduled for March 30.

Legislative News & Notes

Legislation that would increase hunting and fishing license fees in Georgia was expected this year, but a proposal to again change Georgia’s deer season dates came as a surprise.

House Bill 186 would change the statewide closing date for firearms deer season to the third Monday in January, and it would also open up archery deer hunting statewide until Jan. 31.

Currently, Georgia’s gun season for deer closes on the second Sunday of January. This season it closed on Jan. 8.

If HB 186 passes, gun hunting for deer wouldn’t close until Jan. 21 during the 2018-2019 season. The third Monday in January is MLK Day, a holiday for school kids and many workers.

Allowing archery hunting with bows and crossbows statewide until Jan. 31 would mirror what the state currently allows for counties in the metro Atlanta area.

HB 186 would have to be passed by both the state House of Representatives and state Senate and then signed by the Governor before it would be law.

There is also a Senate version, SB 122, which mirrors the deer-season date changes of HB 186; however, an amended version of SB 122 has been discussed that would extend small-game seasons into March. WRD says extending small-game seasons could negatively impact the populations of three game animals in particular—fox squirrels, rabbits and quail. Update: SB 122 was passed favorably out of the Senate Natural Resources and the Environment committee on March 1.

License Fees

The proposed law that would increase hunting and fishing license fees and boat registration is House Bill 208.

HB 208 was approved by the House on March 1 by a vote of 150-14. It still needs to be passed by the state Senate and signed by the Governor.

DNR has estimated that a license fee increase would generate an additional $9 million. The effort to raise license fees was begun more than two years ago by DNR, but during last year’s legislative session two different license-fee bills failed to progress.

HB 208 would significantly increase most license fees, but even with an increase, Georgia’s fees would be below average for southeastern states.

If the proposal passes, the cost of an annual Georgia resident hunting license would increase 50 percent from $10 to $15. If you want to hunt deer or turkey, the annual resident big game license would increase 122 percent from $9 to $20. An annual non-resident big game license would increase from $195 to $225. A resident fishing license would increase from $17 to $25. A resident Sportsman’s License would see the smallest hike—an 18 percent increase—from $55 to $65 per year.

To see all of the proposed fee increases, take a look at the current language of HB 208 by going to www.legis.ga.gov.

A license-fee hike should bring an infusion of money for DNR, which relies on sportsmen for funding through license fees and special federal taxes on equipment we purchase. However, it’s worth noting that license-fee revenues pass through the General Assembly before being allocated to DNR, so there’s always a need for sportsmen to keep an eye on their money.

HB 208 would also create small fees to replace the free honorary licenses available to many groups of people. DNR says that 34 percent of licenses—300,000—are free honorary licenses given to landowners, residents 65 and older, disabled persons, youth and veterans. Honorary licenses, for the most part, would be done away with, and instead those people would purchase a “discounted” license—$5 for an annual combo hunting and fishing license. DNR says this is important because it would bring in an addition $13 million in federal funds from Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Funds, which are those taxes you pay on hunting, shooting and fishing gear. The federal government doles that tax back to states based in part on license sales, and honorary licenses don’t count.

According to DNR, the agency would use the additional revenue from a license fee increase to hire more game wardens. One figure tossed about is that DNR would hire 40 new law enforcement rangers in an effort to have at least one game warden for every county.

Other than that, there hasn’t been much said about what sportsmen would get for paying more. DNR says the additional money would be used to: “Increase services to citizens—technical assistance with private lands, ponds and clubs. Improving education—youth saltwater fishing. Better access—roads, boat ramps/piers. Improving opportunity—educational programs, habitat management.”

To see WRD’s case for supporting a license-fee increase, go to www.georgiawildlife.com/aimforsuccess.

It should be noted that DNR’s website states there hasn’t been a fee increase since 1992. There was also an increase in 2001 to fund Preservation 2000, a land-acquisition program sportsmen paid for that bought the state more than 100,000 acres of property, including Flint River and Joe Kurz WMAs. Once those purchases were completed, the license-fee increase stayed, and those additional funds went to DNR.

Two key points—again—are that the costs of Georgia’s licenses are below average for the southeastern region, and there hasn’t been an increase in fees since 2001.

Gun Laws

A gun-confiscation bill introduced by a coalition of Georgia Democrats is back. HB 10 would ban commonly owned semi-automatic guns and require confiscation of those guns from law-abiding owners. HB 10 bans certain guns that politicians define as “assault weapons” based entirely on how the guns look and because of their semi-auto action. The proposed law was introduced by Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, a Democrat from Decatur. It’s very unlikely this legislation would ever have a chance of passing, but it’s worth your time to read the language of this proposed law change and see which legislators signed on as co-sponsors.

HB 232, sponsored by Rep. Pedro Marin, a Democrat from Duluth, would change Georgia’s current carry laws to require first-time applicants to take basic firearm training in order to obtain a weapons carry license.

The NRA’s comment: “Training should not be a requirement to exercise a constitutional right. HB 232 is another added burden of cost and time for a person who may be in a dire self-defense situation and would like to exercise their constitutional right to carry a firearm for self-defense.”

Meanwhile, gun legislation to support is HB 292. This bill is basically the same as HB 1060, which was passed last year by the legislature but vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal, except that church carry is not included. Update: HB 292 passed favorably out of House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee on Feb. 28; awaiting full House vote.

According to GeorgiaCarry.Org, among the positives of HB 292 are:

• Allow for a person moving into Georgia who has a valid firearms license or permit to carry on that permit for 90 days or upon person attaining a Georgia Weapons Carry License (GWL).

• Allow for certain law enforcement officers to carry when in performance of their official duties.

• Provides for Probate Judge and the DNR to offer Gun Safety Information to applicants for GWL.

• Gives law enforcement 10 days to report to the Probate Judge any findings that may bear upon the issuance of a GWL.

• The judge of the probate court shall not suspend the processing of the application or extend, delay or avoid any time requirements

• Provides for a name change due to marriage or divorce or an address change if the GWL’s expiration date is over 90 days out.

• Provides a path for a person who has been involuntarily hospitalized to apply for restoration of rights.

• Provides that any instructor who lawfully instructs, educates or trains a person in the safe, proper, or technical use of a firearm shall be immune from civil liability for any injuries caused by the failure of such person to use such firearm properly or lawfully.

HB 280 would allow law-abiding GWL holders to carry when he or she is in or on certain buildings or real property owned by or leased to any public technical school, vocational school, college, university, or other institution of postsecondary education. Update: The full House passed HB 280 during Crossover Day, March 3. The Georgia House Democratic Caucus quickly denounced the passage, saying that law-abiding, permitted conceal carry permitted gun owners endanger Georgia students.

GeorgiaCarry.org does a great job of looking out for gun owners, while promoting good law changes and knocking back the anti-gun madness.

To keep track of proposed gun laws, good and bad, go to www.georgiacarry.org/cms/current-bills.

Meanwhile, there was a familiar tone to the recent Wildlife Resources Division public meetings, where sportsmen had an opportunity to offer suggestions and air grievances about hunting regulations. As usual, the most popular topics at the regs meetings were baiting in the Northern Zone and the deer limit, which require law change by the Georgia state legislature. No legislation has been introduced regarding either issue during this year’s General Assembly.

To contact your state representative and senator about legislation or issues, go online to www.legis.ga.gov. You can search for bills to read the full language and check on the status. Go to www.gon.com for updates on the legislative session.

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