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Legislative caucus to tackle Lanier issues
Alliance plans October meeting
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BUFORD — The Lake Lanier Legislative Caucus focused more on getting organ-ized than pushing particular bills, but issues such as ranger funding and boating safety rippled among state lawmakers at the group’s first meeting Tuesday.

“In Georgia, we have the hunter’s safety course. One of the things I’d like to see is a (boating) safety card,” said Rep. Emory Dunahoo Jr., R-Oakwood, offering one quick suggestion.

And money raised from completing requirements for the card would go to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and “now you’re covering rangers and new equipment,” he said.

The caucus, meeting at the new Buford Community Center off Buford Highway, made strides primarily on housekeeping matters, such as deciding to hold future meetings, including one in Gainesville, and public hearings as the group heads into the 2013 legislature.

“I was impressed that enough legislators would make the effort to come (to the meeting),” said state Sen. Renee S. Unterman, R-Buford, after the meeting. “I think legislators have already been working on legislation.”

The meeting drew about 10 lawmakers from counties surrounding Lake Lanier and another group of state officials and lake residents and advocates.

Unterman spearheaded creating the caucus, saying that in the past two years, lake “safety has become one of the overriding issues” in the state.

Nearly a decade ago, lawmakers had the “semblance” of a Lake Lanier caucus,” but after a time, that group faded away, Unterman said.

“We have had so many fatalities on the lake this year, but the seriousness of them seems to be much more than it ever was 10 years ago,” she added, before leading the group in a moment of silence.

Lanier has had a summer of tragedy, including two incidents early in the summer — one that killed two Buford boys, Griffin and Jake Prince, and one that killed a boy reported to be the stepson of entertainer Usher — that drew regional to international attention.

Val Perry, executive vice president of the Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association, spoke to the caucus briefly about his group’s efforts to create the Lake Lanier Water Safety Alliance, a group of lake agencies, businesses and organizations that is moving ahead with safety initiatives of its own.

The alliance is planning a meeting in October. One of the topics will be potential suggestions for state lawmakers to consider when they go into session in 2013, the LLA’s executive director, Joanna Cloud, has said.

“We think that one of the problems is education, understanding the rules of the road when you’re in a boat,” Perry said. “We’ll be looking to the legislature to help drive some things that are beyond our purview, like (boating under the influence) rules ... and issues that are statewide.”

Earlier this summer, after a 13-year-old Buford boy’s body was recovered from Lake Lanier, the loss attributed to an alcohol-related boating accident, Gov. Nathan Deal called on state lawmakers to lower the legal blood alcohol limit for boaters and hunters to 0.08 from 0.10.

DNR Commissioner Mark Williams told the caucus, “We certainly support that.”

He said the number of lake-based rangers has dropped to 198 from a high of 252 in the late 1990s and early last decade.

“The accidents on the lake this year have been so tragic, I think we all need to take a step back and take a good look at where we’re at and where we need to go, as far as safety goes.”

Unterman said she believes a Lake Lanier caucus is crucial because “when you’re dealing with the governor or lieutenant governor ... it has much more leeway and it also gives us a relationship with our locally elected officials ... and, of course, our constituency.”

The General Assembly starts Jan. 14.

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