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Deal calls for tougher alcohol limits for boaters
Governors statement comes after teen killed in accident on Lanier last week
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One day after a 13-year-old Buford teen’s body was recovered from Lake Lanier — the loss attributed to an alcohol-related boating accident — Gov. Nathan Deal called on state lawmakers Thursday to lower the legal blood alcohol limit for boaters and hunters.

Deal, who said the current legal blood alcohol limit of 0.10 was too high, promised to work with the General Assembly to lower the limit to that required of drivers on the road, 0.08.

“As a state, we need to have one level across the board,” Deal said in a statement. “Far too many tragedies have occurred as a result of boating under the influence, and we must take the necessary steps to keep people safe.

Deal’s statement came a day after rescuers found the body of 13-year-old Griffin Prince, who was killed along with his 9-year-old brother, Jake, on the lake near Deal’s former home.

Authorities have charged Paul J. Bennett, 44, of Cumming with boating under the influence in the June 18 crash.

Col. Eddie Henderson, who heads law enforcement for the state Department of Natural Resources, previously told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that his agency encountered stiff opposition when it tried to persuade state lawmakers to change the law.

This year, the legislation passed in the House but did not make it out of committee in the Senate.

On Thursday, House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, echoed the governor’s remarks.

“I fully support the governor’s proposal to lower the blood alcohol limit to .08 for boating and hunting, as it is now for operating a vehicle. This is a gap in our law which we can no longer accept.” Ralston said in a statement.

Butch Miller, a floor leader for Deal in the Georgia Senate, said the legal alcohol limit for boaters is “a piece of the puzzle” when it comes to improving safety on the lake.

“It’s only a small part of the problem,” Miller, a Republican from Flowery Branch, said. “The larger, and more significant, part of the problem is boater education.”

Miller said he supported the lower legal limit, despite his political inclinations toward less government intrusion.

“The atmosphere on Lake Lanier from time to time is somewhat chaotic and there’s got to be some — as much as I hate to say it — there’s got to be some revisiting of the regulations,” Miller said.

Rep. Carl Rogers, too, called the governor’s proposal “a no-brainer.” Rogers also said he supports a measure to require everyone on a boat to wear a life preserver.

“We’ve got to do that,” Rogers said.

But Rogers also said lawmakers have to work to beef up enforcement efforts.

“Obviously, we need to do more patrolling,” he said.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also reported that budget cuts have affected state ranger patrols on Georgia waterways. Henderson said the agency has lost about 20 percent of its rangers and is down to about 200 positions.

Between 1999 and 2004, rangers routinely issued 55 to 77 boating-under-the-influence tickets a year, the newspaper said. Since 2005, rangers have issued less than 35 BUI tickets in most years.

Deal’s proposal may not get support from Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Oakwood. Dunahoo, an avid fisherman, said the existing rules are sufficient.

“I’m not for more government and more government rules,” Dunahoo said.

On Friday, Dunahoo said he would consider changing the BUI rules.

Dunahoo also said he might support stiffer penalties for those who break the laws of the water. If Bennett is convicted, for example, Dunahoo said he’d support forcing him to pay for the costs of the search for Griffin Prince.

Also Thursday, Deal cautioned boaters who will be celebrating the upcoming Independence Day holiday that state and local officers will be working to arrest violators of boating laws.

“With the Fourth of July right around the corner, I ask that boaters take this tragedy into serious consideration while celebrating during the holiday,” Deal said. “Safety must be a priority at all times.”

The body of Griffin Prince was found 113 feet beneath the surface Wednesday evening after a nine-day search of Lake Lanier that involved dive teams, search dogs and sophisticated FBI sonar equipment.

Authorities said the two boys were killed June 18 when the pontoon boat driven by the boy’s father, Mike Prince, was hit by another boat. Investigators said they have begun reconstructing the crash on land as part of an ongoing probe.

They say Bennett could face more charges.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.