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State senator: Boating laws need to be compared against rest of U.S.
Group sets goals after tragedies on Lanier
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Correction: A previous version of this story online and in print incorrectly listed the number of rangers the Department of Natural Resources has patrolling Lake Lanier. 

BUFORD — Georgia needs to “compare itself with the rest of the nation” before it moves forward on changing boating laws, the chairman of the newly formed Lake Lanier Legislative Caucus said Monday night.

“We need to make sure our licensure is on par with other states,” said Sen. Renee S. Unterman, R-Buford.

The caucus is in the early stages of addressing lake-related issues, set to hold just its second meeting at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Northeast Georgia History Center in Gainesville.

“We’re just beginning to do our research,” Unterman said, addressing the Hall County Joint Municipal Association, meeting at the newly opened Buford Community Center.

The caucus held its first meeting on Sept. 18 at the community center, drawing some 10 lawmakers from counties surrounding Lake Lanier and other state officials, as well as lake residents and advocates.

Unterman, who had helped spearhead the caucus, said at that meeting that in the past two years, lake “safety has become one of the overriding issues” in the state.

Since that meeting, “The response has been fabulous, from the community surrounding the lake and the elected officials,” she said.

“Ten years ago, when I first became senator, the big issue was the water level,” Unterman said. “That’s always going to be an issue ... but now, the new issue is public safety, with all the fatalities we’ve had on the lake.”

Lanier had a summer of tragedy, including two incidents early in the season — 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.

Gov. Nathan Deal has called on state lawmakers to lower the legal blood alcohol limit for boaters and hunters to 0.08 from 0.10.

“There are several legislators who are interested in having a boating license, and I (believe) you’re going to have a hard time (with that issue) in the General Assembly,” Unterman said, adding that some places in the state don’t have the same amount of boating traffic as Lanier.

“Anytime you present legislation like that, you’ve got to think about the whole state of Georgia,” Unterman said.
Another big issue facing the state concerning lake safety “is the state budget,” she said.

“You can put all the laws you want on the books about boating and boating safety, but we don’t have (enough) enforcement.”

Unterman cited Georgia Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Williams as saying at the Sept. 17 meeting that before the economic downturn several years ago, the DNR had more rangers on the lake than it does today. Col. Eddie Henderson of the DNR said the number of rangers fell from 16 to 11 in recent years.

“It does absolutely no good to create new laws if you don’t have enough enforcement,” Unterman said.

Wednesday’s caucus meeting also will be largely organizational.

“We’re going to adopt policies and rules for our caucus,” Unterman said. “And we’re also going to talk about holding public hearings. I think it’s very important to hear from our constituents and people like you, who have a vested interest in Lake Lanier.”

The General Assembly starts Jan. 14.

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