A state House panel says it’s time for Georgia hunters and anglers to pay more for their licenses, but the state Senate voted for a price freeze on license renewals.
“This legislation adjusts license fees to align with Southern averages,” said state Rep. Trey Rhodes, R-Greensboro, during a state House subcommittee hearing on House Bill 208, his formal proposal to raise license prices across the board.
For example, a basic annual resident hunting license would increase from $10 to $15. A one-year basic fishing license would go from $9 to $15. An adult lifetime sportsman’s license — which covers most hunting and fishing privileges — would increase from $500 to $750 for an adult aged 16 to 49. Under the bill, nonresident licenses would go up too, as do boat registration fees.
With the money, the state plans to hire 40 game wardens, Rhodes said, as well as build more and better roads to public lands and improve wildlife habitat in water and on land, among other things.
Georgians held more than 1 million paid hunting or fishing licenses in the year that ended in June 2015, according to a report by state auditors, but it also said that the state could raise as much as $6.7 million more annually by raising its license fees “to match industry rates.”
The state could also tap up to an additional $5 million by charging a “nominal” fee for senior licenses that are now free, according to the report, because paid licenses help attract federal dollars for states’ fish and game agencies. Rhodes’ bill sets up several paid senior licenses, including a $4 charge for an annual basic hunting license.
The bill got unanimous subcommittee approval on Friday and the full state House Game, Fish and Parks Committee could hear it as early as this week.
But that same committee just got a new bill from the state Senate that would insulate hunters and anglers from any license price hike by freezing the cost of renewals.
State Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, author of Senate Bill 48, said that the more people Georgia can keep with an active hunting or fishing license, the better off the state will be.
“If you are asking me do I support an increase in license fees, obviously this bill has a different intent from that,” Heath said, responding to a question on the state Senate floor. “I think that we need to keep our citizens’ ability to access these hunting and fishing licenses and the rights to hunt and fish as economical as possible.”
The Senate approved his bill by a 53-1 vote, though some state senators said they would like to see changes to it as it moves through the Legislature. They expressed concerns that the bill could tie Georgia’s hands when it comes to raising money for conservation and that it leaves federal money on the table.
Maggie Lee: @maggie_a_lee