A bill touching on a number of changes to the state’s hunting and fishing laws passed out of the state Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee by voice vote Tuesday.

“Last year, the majority of this bill passed out of the Senate about four times, if I remember correctly,” said state Sen. Tyler Harper, R-Ocilla and chairman of the committee. “We just didn’t quite get across the finish line. I’ll just leave it there.”

Included in the bill — Senate Bill 72 — is the codification of board rules for the state Department of Natural Resources and the legalization of air gun hunting. Air guns could be used “for big game only during primitive weapon hunts, primitive weapon seasons and firearm seasons.” That provision sunsets in 2024, but would be reviewed as to whether it should be renewed.

Section Four is a significant update to the game code. Harper said that basically, what they’re doing in the section is giving DNR the authority to make some decisions in regard to seasons for game to where the code will reflect bookends, and they’re giving the department the authority to make those decisions within those bookends.

The bill eliminates specifics dealing with groups of counties. For instance, it would have the opossum hunting closed season set for March 1-Oct. 14 statewide, deleting the portion of the law regarding the area north of, and including, the counties of Haralson, Paulding, Bartow, Cherokee, Forsyth, Hall, Banks, Franklin and Hart. Similar locality specifications would be gone from deer and raccoon regulations, also.

“Section Five deals with feral hogs and the baiting of feral hogs,” Harper said. “Baiting of feral hogs is legal in Georgia. All this does is it kind of cleans up the code and makes it read a little bit better, and the only thing that this does is it does away with the 50-yard prohibition (on bait from a property boundary).”

Section Six cleans up the state code to refer to game wardens as game wardens — they’re currently referred to in state law as conservation rangers.

In other committee action, Kevin Clark, executive director of the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, explained to senators on the panel the process for handling money as the new Outdoor Stewardship Act goes into effect.

“Our role as GEFA in that is we will collect the funds from the Department of Revenue, we will be responsible for dispersing the funds, DNR and the stewardship board will be responsible for designating what projects will be selected, and we will be responsible for disbursing those funds and making sure those projects are as they say they should be,” Clark said. “And then, there’s also a loan element to the Outdoor Stewardship Act, and we will be managing and underwriting those loans. That’s pretty basic, standard fare for us.”

Staff from the state Environmental Protection Division was supposed to testify Tuesday, but that was moved to Thursday morning in a joint meeting with the state House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.

“And, EPD’s going to dive off into some of the details in regard to some of the other things that they’re working on, on our behalf, as well as have a discussion about (coal combustion residuals),” Harper said. “Some of you may already be aware of that. We’ve been having that conversation here, so we’re going to have an update from them, and some of our partners are also going to speak.”

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