The 2024 legislative session officially ended March 28th!

First and foremost, thank you for all your help this session! We would not have made progress on important conservation issues without you. Representatives and Senators acknowledged your calls and emails in many committee hearings. Every time we set foot in the Capitol, the Camo Coalition was mentioned.

Now that the session is over, let’s recap what happened, and more specifically, what happened concerning your right to hunt, fish, and travel our navigable streams.

SB 115, passed in 2023, clearly and unequivocally stated that navigable waters of our state are open for fishing. In fall of 2023, a House Study Committee on Fishing Access to Freshwater Resources released a report with seven recommendations, one of which referenced the language of SB 115. In the 2024 Session, many bills could have been introduced to address any of the Committee’s findings. But, although we continuously reminded legislators that there have been no tickets issued, no lawsuits, and no one fighting under the existing language of SB 115, two pieces of legislation were introduced affecting SB 115 and your right to hunt, fish, and pass on navigable streams: HB 1172 and SB 542.

Both bills addressed the same finding from the study committee report, “to remove the public trust doctrine.” However, removing this language left a degree of uncertainty regarding touching the stream bed and being able to anchor, wade, eddy, etc., which made GWF and many sportsmen and women uncomfortable. The vagueness of both bills seemed intentional and conveyed a concern for trespassing on private property, but not a concern for the public’s inherent right to fish, hunt, and travel our navigable streams.

Trespassing on private property has always been illegal and was still illegal under SB 115. SB 115 didn’t take anything from landowners. Instead, it simply reminded everyone that we’ve always had the right to pass upon, fish, and hunt navigable streams. Anglers and hunters are allowed to wade on the bottom of navigable streams because the State of Georgia holds that right in trust for each of us and always has. The language in SB 542 was clearer than HB 1172, but HB 1172 made it across the finish line first.

HB 1172 is now sitting on Governor Kemp’s desk. We received assurance from our partners at Georgia DNR that they will not fundamentally change the enforcement of hunting and fishing laws, but, the vagueness of the legislation leaves us uncertain what will happen if this bill is signed into law. In the future, or under the auspices of any number of other law enforcement agencies in the state, will you be ticketed for going to your favorite fishing spot and stopping to eat a sandwich? Will you be ticketed for setting out decoys before you hunt? Will you be ticketed for stopping and taking a picture of a bird, flower, or fish? All of these simple tasks could be at risk with a different interpretation of their vague language. We hope that everything we have been told by the bill author is true and that your right to hunt, fish, and paddle our navigable streams will remain intact for future generations…but hope is a poor substitute for clear legislative language.

One more piece of legislation passed on the last day of the session. HR 1554 was adopted by the House to create a Study Committee on Navigable Streams and Related Matters. This committee will work in the off season to “evaluate all aspects of navigable streams in this state and the complex issues surrounding their ownership, private and public rights of use, and other related matters.” The committee is made up of seven individuals: the chairwoman of the House Natural Resources and Environment committee, up to four members of the House, the Majority Whip of the House (the author of HB 1172), and an attorney with experience in water and property rights. We are unsure when and where this committee plans to meet, but we will keep you updated and encourage you to engage when possible.

Thank you again for taking action and reaching out to your elected officials! GWF and the Camo Coalition tracked numerous other bills during the Session. To see how they fared, visit the Camo Coalition website.

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