The following is from Mack Martin, our TU National Leadership Council Rep.
I had a brief discussion regarding the plight of the hunting & fishing license fee increase bill (HB872) at the last chapter meeting.
I asked the members of the chapter to contact the DNR commissioner (Mark Williams) and express their concern for the fact that the bill was pulled from consideration following the House committee meeting on February 9, 2016. Moreover, after months of meetings and discussions with hunters and fishermen throughout Georgia and the overwhelming support for the increase in license fees, no explanation has been given for this action on the part of DNR. A number of chapter members asked for the details of the timeline for the bill and contact information for Mark Williams, DNR Commissioner.
So here they are:
HB 872 (Game and fish; boat registration fees and allow additional methods for reporting the sale of boats) was introduced on Jan. 28, 2016 by the following sponsors:
Chad Nimmer (R) Dist 178 - Originator
David Knight(R) Dist 130
Terry England (R) Dist 116
Jason Shaw (R) Dist 176
Al Williams (D) Dist 168
Terry Rhodes (R) Dist 120
After the bill was introduced there were two meetings of the House Game, Fish and Parks committee where various organizations testified favorably for the passage of this bill (Trout Unlimited included). The last individual to testify in the second meeting was Mike Worley, Georgia Wildlife Federation CEO, and he stressed that income from this bill would result in approximately 10 million dollars in increased revenue and the sportsmen in Georgia would like to know where this money will be spent. The following day the bill was withdrawn by DNR with no explanation.
Prior to the introduction of HB 872, the House GP&P passed a bill, HB 483 introduced by Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-137), making the Shoal Bass the "Official Native Riverine Sportfish" and it passed the full House, this bill was a carryover from the 2015 legislative session. HB 483 was assigned to the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee (NR&E). Approximately a week after HB 872 was withdrawn, Rep. Buckner's bill was called for a hearing in the Senate committee. This was a very unusual occurrence for a House Bill, sponsored by a Democrat, to be called for a hearing before crossover day. Prior to the hearing, Rep. Buckner was approached to see if she objected to having a "fishing license fee" amendment attached to HB 483. A hearing was held and the bill was discussed, but no vote was taken.
Ultimately the plan was to pass HB 483 in the Senate and ask the House to "agree" to the Senate version and if they did so the bill would be sent to the Governor for his signature. If the House insisted on their position (the original bill) there would likely be a conference committee appointed to try and work out the differences. On March 15, 2016 the SNR&E committee voted the HB 483 out of committee with no amendments. This essentially ended the possibility of securing additional funding for wildlife and fisheries management for this legislative session.
There are opinions as to what happened to this bill (HB872) but no official explanation has been given by anyone from DNR regarding what happened to the bill. Mark Williams told some members of the Georgia Water Coalition team: "That the DNR did not want to push fees because it's an election year." This group believes that there were fears over any maneuver to require of how fees were to be actually allocated and used.
You can draw your own conclusion as to what went on internally in the DNR management, but in the meantime I think sportsmen in Georgia are due an explanation of why was a major funding bill pulled from consideration after so much discussion took place between conservation groups, Georgia Wildlife Federation, and sportsman all over Georgia.
You are urged to contact the DRN commissioner as a concerned sportsman and ask for a LOGICAL explanation. ("It's an election year is not a reason").
The contact information for Mark Williams is as follows:
2 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr.
Suite 152- East tower
Atlanta, GA 30334