State lawmakers and others meeting in Gainesville on Wednesday suggested ways to strengthen boating laws, including requiring boaters to pass a safety course and raising the age for a mandatory life jacket.
The newly formed Lake Lanier Legislative Caucus spent a chunk of time still trying to organize itself, talking about dues and such, before getting down to discussing an array of ideas that could be forwarded to Senate and House researchers.
One of the ideas that drew the most discussion centered on a required “safety card,” which boaters could get by taking a class, such as one of the hunter safety courses offered through the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
“My idea is (the state charges) a fee for that and try to make sure all the money goes to the DNR,” said Emory Dunahoo, R-Oakwood, during the session at the Northeast Georgia History Center. “That way, we could afford more rangers. It’s kind of like, if you’re going to play, you’re going to pay.
“If DNR pulls you over and you don’t have that card, it’s pretty much a ticket. Ticket revenues would go (to DNR) also.”
Rep. Josh Clark, R-Buford, suggested reserving the required class for lawbreakers on the lake.
“It seems to me there’s a lot of responsible boaters on the lake,” he said. “They’re abiding by the laws and enjoying the freedom on the lake, but, by the same token, there’s a lot ... who think that just because they’re on a boat, there’s no danger.”
Rep.-elect Kevin Tanner, whose district includes Dawson, Lumpkin and North Forsyth counties, agreed with Clark.
“We have so much government regulation already,” he said. “... I think you just have to be careful adding regulations for responsible folks.”
Stephanie Woodard, solicitor general for Hall County, said she would like to see required boating education of some kind.
“The rules of travel on the waterway are different than the rules of the roadway,” she said in an interview after the meeting. “Most folks think that if they know how to drive a car, they know how to drive a boat.
“Even a (class lasting) an hour or two hours to understand the operation of the vessel, as well as the yielding aspect only rules on the waterway would help avoid a lot of near misses and scares.”
In addressing the caucus, Woodard said, “The problem is the face of boaters has changed. Now, anybody can rent a boat with zero experience, and these are high-powered vessels.”
State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, said, “Your point about the gravity of the experience and potential for danger and injury is very accurate.”
Chuck Spahos, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, suggested a person whose driver’s license is suspended from a drunken driving conviction also should be banned from driving a boat on the lake.
“And if you’re convicted on the water, it should suspend your privilege to drive a motor vehicle,” he said.
The caucus chairwoman, State Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, was surprised such a law doesn’t already exist.
“I did not know that,” she said. “That’s a revelation.”
Also, Col. Eddie Henderson of the DNR’s Law Enforcement Section said he would like to see lawmakers consider raising the age for being required to wear a life jacket while the vessel is moving to anyone under 13 years old from under 10.
“That would get us to a national standard,” he said.