ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp has signed a fishing rights bill the General Assembly passed in the waning seconds of this year’s session.
Senate Bill 115, which the governor inked late Monday, guarantees Georgians’ right to fish in navigable portions of the state’s rivers and streams.
Fishing rights didn’t become an issue until a property owner along a portion of the Flint River asserted its exclusive right to control fishing from the bank on its side of the river to the center of the stream and banned fishing there.
Four Chimneys LLLP, which owns a stretch of the Flint along Yellow Jacket Shoals, sued the state alleging failure to enforce the ban and won an agreement from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources in late March promising to enforce the ban.
The agreement prompted legislative leaders to scramble as the General Assembly was about to adjourn for the year to find a way to enact a fishing rights guarantee. Working with the governor’s office, they removed the language from a Senate bill heading for passage and inserted the fishing rights provision.
Senate Bill 115 cleared the Senate overwhelmingly minutes after midnight on March 30. The bill had passed the House on the night of the 29th – the 40th and final day of the 2023 session – but not without dozens of “no” votes from lawmakers apparently unhappy with the 11th-hour process used to pass it.
In a signing statement issued Monday, Kemp acknowledged that his office received numerous calls on the bill, both in support and opposition. He went on to explain why he signed it.
“The state has invested millions of dollars collected through license fees to establish fisheries and boat ramps and to manage recreational fishing populations in our rivers,” Kemp wrote. “This bill allows for the public to hunt, fish, and transit the navigable waters of this state … a privilege that has been assured Georgians for generations.”
Kemp noted that the bill does not affect non-navigable streams nor does it impact “the use of water by adjacent landowners in navigable rivers.”
The governor also acknowledged there seems to be some uncertainty about the bill’s language. He said the upcoming House Study Committee on Fishing Access to Freshwater Resources will provide an opportunity for clarity.
“This study committee will meet between legislative sessions this summer and is the appropriate venue to receive suggested amendments to the language in Senate Bill 115,” Kemp wrote.
On a busy day for bill signing, the governor also inked legislation to:
— guarantee Georgia public school teachers a daily planning period.
— apply the state sales tax to digital downloads.
— ban Tik Tok from devices owned by the state government.
— do away with the sunset provision on a law prohibiting the state and local governments from requiring Georgians to show proof of COVID vaccination in order to receive government services.