This has been a tremendously active year at the Capitol for Camo Coalition and you are making a real difference for the future of hunting and fishing. Thursday, February 29, marked a watershed day in the Legislature. Known as Crossover Day, any legislation that doesn’t advance from one chamber to the other by the end of the day is dead for the year.

Your response to the alerts has been remarkable and the reaction by the legislature has been remarkable as well. Let’s take a moment to review:

Fishing Access Legislation

As many of you recall, last year our fishing and hunting on Georgia’s navigable streams was threatened by an ill-advised consent agreement signed by our Georgia Department of Natural Resources. On the last day of the ’23 session, with the resolute leadership of Governor Brian Kemp, we were successful in passing SB 115 that secured and clearly restated the rights of hunters and anglers to fish our navigable streams. For some incomprehensible reason, the law has drawn the opposition of the high-powered agribusiness lobby, and a few industry members with water discharges, in a misplaced fear of lawsuits or a constant drumbeat of “takings” under some new rights that SB 115 supposedly gave Georgians. As we said at the time, SB 115 clearly and correctly stated simply the rights and common law that all Georgian’s have always had since before even the founding of our nation.  TO DATE, THIS IS STILL THE BEST SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM. Since the law became effective, hunter and anglers are not getting tickets, neither manufacturers nor agriculture interests are being sued, no permit holders have faced challenges through the public trust doctrine, all previously existing property rights are being protected, and private lands are not being overrun with new waves of trespassers.

So far this session we have asked you to take action on two fishing access bills that purport to fix things that aren’t broken:

HB 1172:

HB 1172 was introduced to strike down the language referring to Georgia’s Public Trust Doctrine, which when relating to Georgia’s navigable streams, establishes that the State of Georgia holds the rights of passage, fishing and hunting in the public trust for Georgians to utilize. Proponents of HB 1172 included vague language that stated the public continues to have the right to passage, fishing and hunting on our navigable steams. However, the language of the bill was unclear as to whether one could anchor, wade, exit a boat or even touch the bottom of these steams…and the proponents of the legislation have, at various times, argued that anglers could enter the water and could not enter the water, all under the same language of the bill. Fortunately, during the public hearings on the bill we heard assurances that the intent is that hunters and anglers could indeed enter the water and touch the bottom.

Of an odd nature, traditionally bills that deal with hunting and fishing are assigned to the House Game, Fish & Parks Committee. Occasionally they are assigned to the House Natural Resources & Environment Committee. Interestingly, HB 1172 was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee. House Judy, as it is sometimes called, does a tremendous work on legal and judicial procedural legislation.

Ultimately enough questions were raised in the Judiciary Committee meeting that when time came for a vote the committee members evenly split on recommending passage and the Chair of the committee had to cast a rare tiebreaking vote to pass the bill out of committee.

Camo Coalition took prompt action in opposition to the bill, contacting House members to vote against the measure. In all, though HB 1172 ultimately passed before Crossover Day, it faced 60 “Nay” votes on the floor.

HB 1172 reached the Georgia Senate where it has been assigned, interestingly again, to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It is in this committee awaiting the beginning of its Senate debate.

SB 542:

SB 542 was introduced and assigned to the more usual Senate Natural Resources & Environment Committee. The language of the legislation initially was almost identical to HB 1172. However, with Camo Coalition members contacting the committee, the author, Sen. Sam Watson, recognized almost immediately the vagueness of the language and provided substitute language that clearly stated that hunters, anglers and boaters have the right to enter the water and touch the bottom in pursuit of their activities. His simple change cleared up the vagueness of the House bill. When we stood up and acknowledged the value of the change and supported the bill if indeed a change was needed, SB 542 passed unanimously from the committee and was sent to the Senate Rules committee to be placed on the floor calendar for Crossover Day.

Your Camo Coalition voice was again heard! You reached out to your Senators to state the SB 542 language is acceptable and on Crossover the Senate unanimously approved SB 542 and forwarded it to the House. It has not been assigned to committee yet.

As you see, your Camo Alert actions have clearly impacted these important bills. Your action highlighted the challenges of HB 1172 and also highlighted the value of clearly stating that hunting and fishing are too important to relegate to confusing, vague, half-measure words. You boldly stated the General Assembly must be clear in their support of our traditions, in conservation and in the future health of Georgia.

According to the agribusiness lobby’s newsletter of March 1, 2024, they clearly stated their position is “to claw back private property rights lost by landowners adjacent to navigable streams at the end of last session”. This states, in plain language, that their claimed fears of lawsuits are not their priority. Their priority is to allow, improperly, landowners to exclude you from these navigable streams. What last year’s session produced, at the end, was a clear and concise piece of legislation that stated hunters and anglers had ALWAYS had the right to fish and hunt on Georgia’s navigable streams – always – and we always must have that right. Adjacent landowners lost nothing – they never had the right to exclude hunters and anglers in the first place.

Please stay on the ready. I expect we will have several more opportunities for Camo Coalition to make a difference in the remaining 11 days of the 2024 General Assembly Session.

If you aren’t already a member of the Camo Coalition, we need you. Sign up today!

Pin It on Pinterest