Lawmakers Mum on Possible Legislation for 2007 Session

Talk of hunting exotic species and revisitation of animal-fighting bill likely; hunting deer over bait a question mark.

With the attention of lawmakers focused closely on last month’s elections, it may be a little early to know what issues may affect sportsmen when the Georgia General Assembly convenes on January 8, but there is a good chance legislation that — for whatever reason — didn’t make it through during the last session may resurface in one form or another.

“What I’m hearing from legislators right now is that everyone was so focused on elections that it’s a little early to figure on what will be going on for sure,” said Scott Tanner, a lobbyist at Joe Tanner & Associates in Atlanta. “As time goes on and we get closer to the session, things will start to coalesce.”

An item Tanner thinks will be revisited is an animal-fighting bill, introduced last session by Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock). SB 229 was intended to strengthen laws against animal fighting to make it easier to prosecute those suspected of participating in dog-fighting rings, Tanner said. The bill passed the Senate, but did not make it out of committee in the House because of concern from hunters — specifically hog hunters who use dogs to hunt, and also in staged field trials.

“Last year’s bill was broadly written and didn’t include enough exemptions for things like training dogs for hunting,” Tanner said. “The intent was to stop dog-fighting rings without affecting field trials or training or anything like that… Sportsmen’s groups worked on it and made changes, and at the end of the day sportsmen were comfortable with it. There just wasn’t enough time left to pass it.”

Tanner said the bill will probably be considered this year in the amended version that sportsmen’s groups have had a chance to work on.

Another topic that received a good bit of attention in last year’s session, but over which little was accomplished, was all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). In the House and Senate, five separate ATV bills were introduced last year, two of them that dealt with law-enforcement use and the legal definitions of different ATVs were passed and signed into law, but the rest failed — including a safety-related ATV bill.

Rep. Chuck Sims (R-Albany) introduced HB 1004, which died in the House last year. The bill would have required registration of ATVs, a driver’s license for those operating an ATV, anyone under the age of 16 to complete a safety course before driving an ATV and supervision for anyone under the age of 16 to operate an ATV.

“It was well-intentioned,” Tanner said, “but there was a lot of concern from the rural community — farmers especially.”

Rep. Sims said he might try to resurrect the issue in a less-restrictive bill in the upcoming session. He mentioned the possibility of introducing a bill that would require ATV operators to wear helmets and take safety courses.

“I’d love to see it come to fruition, but I don’t know how I’m going to go about it. It’s still a major problem,” Sims said. “There should be something to restrict the use with young ’uns… I’m going to look at it, but I’m not going to resurrect it if I don’t have the votes.”

Other sportsmen’s issues Sims said need to be looked at in the upcoming session are more public-land access for hunters and anglers, additional public boat ramps on the state’s lakes and rivers, possible state stocking of quail and quail habitat work. Sims also mentioned that there has been some discussion about canned hunts for exotic species among House Republicans.

Sims said he is against the importation of any deer or cervid species because of the danger of chronic wasting disease, but he doesn’t see a problem with farming or hunting exotic species that are already in the state.

“The DNR does allow people to fence in their farm to shoot whitetail, but if somebody owns an exotic deer… they can’t,” Sims said. “If a landowner wants to do that to make more money off his land, that’s his business.”

Sims said that Rep. Gene Maddox (R-Cairo) might be working on a bill that would allow canned hunts for exotic species. When contacted by GON, Rep. Maddox verified that he is working on a bill that has to do with hunting, but refused to elaborate on his work.

“We’ll just have to wait until it’s ready,” he said.

The Georgia Wildlife Resources Division has taken a position against canned hunts for exotic species, even if the hunts would provide an economic benefit for the state, said Todd Holbrook, WRD assistant director.

“We don’t think that’s a good idea. The image of hunting exotics creates a negative perception of hunting among non-hunters,” he said. “If such a bill is introduced, I think there will be significant opposition and that’s just from the publicity side, without even going into the biology side of it.”

Even without importation of additional exotics, Holbrook said there is a possibility of negative impacts from escaped animals. He also said allowing canned hunts for exotic species could set the stage for illegal importation of animals to support such operations.

Deer baiting, a controversial topic that has come up year after year in the General Assembly, was supposed to have been put to rest during the 2006 legislative session. A House Deer Study Committee was appointed to look into opinions on deer baiting in Georgia and found strong support for it in the southern part of the state.

HB 1285, sponsored by Rep. Jay Roberts (R-Ocilla), went into the hopper with the intent of making hunting deer over bait legal in Georgia. Rep. Bob Lane (R-Statesboro) — then chairman of the House Game, Fish and Parks Committee — released the bill without recommendation stating a desire to put the controversial issue to a vote. The bill never made it to the House floor after Rep. Roberts removed it from consideration while it was on the House Rules Committee’s calendar.

However, even though the debate was supposed to end in the last session, WRD Assistant Chief of Game Management John Bowers thinks deer baiting may come up again.

“It’s pretty much standard. Somebody will probably bring up baiting,” Bowers said. “Someone has brought it up pretty much every year for the last nine years or so.”

Even if deer baiting comes up again, Holbrook doesn’t think it will be as hot of a topic as it was last year.

“The baiting issue was a big deal last year, but it was kind of approached as let’s get it on the table and handle it,” Holbrook said. “So I don’t see it as a big deal this time around. But you never know. Legislators can introduce bills on whatever they want.”

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