BUFORD -- Sen. Renee Unterman said Saturday she expects a comprehensive bill addressing Lake Lanier boating safety -- potentially including mandated education and licensing -- to be proposed during the state legislature's next session.
Unterman and four other members of the recently formed Lake Lanier Legislative Caucus held town hall-type meetings in Gainesville and Buford on Saturday, receiving input from residents, business owners, county officials and the Department of Natural Resources. The main issue repeatedly brought up at the afternoon session at Buford City Hall was boater education.
District 98 Rep. Josh Clark, District 104 Rep. Valerie Clark, District 103 Representative-elect Timothy Barr and Ga. Sen. Butch Miller and Unterman listened and fielded questions.
"We have people on Lake Lanier who have no clue what they're doing," lake resident Mel White said. "They have no idea of the rules of the road. And I wonder if there's not some way that we can require licensing for boating operators, just like we require for people to drive an automobile."
"We probably cannot legislate away stupidity," Buford resident Phyllis White said, "but I don't think the education can ever be voluntary. I don't think you'll get enough people to do it if we keep trying to do it voluntary."
Unterman, who founded the caucus, said after Saturday's meeting that she expected a bill to be pitched during the General Assembly's new session that would cover three bases:
• Mandate boater education, with possible licensing
• Lower the boating under the influence threshold to 0.08, to match roadway DUI standards
• Make life preserver use mandatory for those under 13 years old
She said she would like to see more regulated boater education become a reality.
"I think a license will be tied into the boater education," Unterman said. "It'll be like the hunter safety course. You have to take that before you can go hunting, and you have to prove that you've taken it."
Rep. Josh Clark, who grew up in the area and lives on Lanier himself, was a little more cautious. He said tragedies like the death of Jake and Griffin Prince -- two boys killed over the summer by an alleged drunk boater -- should spur action, but the right action.
"We have to make sure that these tragedies cause us to stop and consider, but at the same time not to overreact," he said. "Overall, most people are responsible on the lake."
Clark said he would be cautious about enforcing mandatory licensing, but acknowledged the importance of education.
"The question is do we enforce that or do we incentivize it," he said.
The caucus tentatively scheduled a meeting for the second week in January. The General Assembly reconvenes on Jan. 14.