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March 21, 2013

House OKs lower alcohol limits for boat operators

ATLANTA — Reacting to high-profile deaths on Lake Lanier, the Georgia House of Representatives has approved a proposal to lower the allowable blood-alcohol limits for hunters and anyone driving a water vessel in the state.

Senate Bill 136 would set the limit at .08 grams per 100 grams of blood (.08 percent), where it already stands for anyone operating a motor vehicle on Georgia roads. The sportsmen’s limit is currently .10 grams, where it has remained in the years since lawmakers adopted tougher DUI laws for motorists.

The bill cleared the House with little opposition. Because of changes in the lower chamber, the measure now must go back to the Senate for further consideration, but it is expected to pass easily and head to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.

Deal highlighted the idea in his State of the State address in January. The governor said at the time that anyone who is too drunk to drive on the road is too drunk to drive on the water.

“Passing this bill will save lives in Georgia,” said House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey of Atlanta.

Various sections of the new law are named for Kile Glover of Atlanta and Griffin and Jake Prince of Buford, all victims who were killed in water accidents last year.

The 11-year-old Glover was killed while riding in a tube being pulled by a boat. The tube was struck by a water vessel being driven by Jeffrey Hubbard, a family friend who has since been indicted in the case by a Hall County grand jury on several charges related to the accident.

The Prince brothers — Griffin was 13; Jake was 9 — died after their family’s pontoon boat was struck by a boat being operated by Paul Bennett of Cumming. He faces a May trial date for homicide and boating under the influence.

Authorities at the Department of Natural Resources have long noted the discrepancy in alcohol limits. They’ve also noted that enforcement remains difficult on the water regardless of the limits, because there are no marked lanes, making it harder to have probable cause for pulling over a boat operator.

On Wednesday, the Senate extended a tax break exempting engines and equipment used in plane maintenance from the sales tax so long as those parts are installed on out-of-state aircraft. That tax break, due to expire on June 30, 2013, would be extended by two years. State budget officials estimated the tax break will cost Georgia more than $18 million in tax revenue.

 

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