State By State Advocacy Series – September 2020 Southern Recap

The fourth and final segment of NMMA’s September state advocacy series features updates from the southern region. Contact Lee Gatts, lgatts@nmma.org with questions. 

Travel Restrictions: Florida requires all visitors traveling from New York, Connecticut and New Jersey to isolate or quarantine for 14 days.

Business Liability: As businesses deal with the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, outdated business liability rules have come to the forefront of business protection needs.

  • AlabamaExecutive Order SOE8 protects eligible businesses against claims of on-premises exposure to COVID-19. However, the immunity does not apply to lawsuits in which a plaintiff shows “clear and convincing evidence” of a businesses’ “wanton, reckless, willful, or intentional misconduct.”
  • ArkansasExecutive Order 20-33 protects any business that opened or remained open during the pandemic. All persons in the State of Arkansas are immune from civil liability for damages or injuries caused by or resulting from exposure of an individual to COVID-19 on the premises that they own or operate.
  • GeorgiaAct 588 was signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp on August 8th, providing immunity to businesses from liability for damages in COVID-19 liability actions unless the claimant can prove gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, reckless infliction of harm, or intentional infliction of harm. The legislation is under Governor Kemp’s review and awaits his signature.
  • LouisianaSenate Bill 491 protects any person, who renders disaster relief, recovery services, or products outside of the typical course and scope of their operations in coordination with federal or state governments.
  • MississippiSenate Bill 3049 protects any person who attempts in good faith to follow applicable public health guidance from civil damages for any injuries or death resulting from or related to actual or alleged exposure or potential exposure to COVID-19.
  • North CarolinaHouse Bill 118 protects a person or business from being liable for any act or omission that does not amount to gross negligence, willful or wanton conduct, or intentional wrongdoing.
  • OklahomaSenate Bill 1946 protects any person who conducts business in the state. Businesses shall not be liable in a civil action claiming an injury from exposure or potential exposure to COVID-19 as long as the business was in compliance or consistent with federal or state regulations.
  • South Carolina – The Legislature is considering the “South Carolina COVID-19 Liability Safe Harbor Act”.If enacted, it. would provide liability protection for any business or Individual that reasonably adheres to public health guidance.
  • Tennessee – The State Legislature returned for a specially called session on August 10 and passed  The Tennessee COVID-19 Recovery Act. The legislation provides Tennessee businesses with protections from liability claims related to COVID-19 for the next two years. The bill was signed into law by Governor Lee on August 17th.

Access: In Florida, the St. John’s River Water Management District, in partnership with FWC, has announced the Fellsmere Reservoir boat ramp in Indian River County has opened to the public. The highly anticipated boat ramp, parking area and restrooms will provide anglers access to 10,000 acres of prime largemouth bass and other sport fishing opportunities.

The FWC contributed $1.35 million dollars on enhancing 2,000 acres of habitat over a 2-year period, as well as stocking nearly 2 million sport fish, including 1 million largemouth bass. FWC biologists have been monitoring and evaluating fish populations, habitat and water quality in order to develop management strategies that will allow Fellsmere to sustain a world-class bass fishery for the future of the Fishing Capital of the World.

Fellsmere Reservoir will be managed under state-wide freshwater fishing regulations. The FWC will use data collected from fish population sampling and angler creel surveys to inform future management actions.

Conservation:

Wakesurfing: In North Carolina, the Lake Norman Marine Commission (LNMC) dissolved its’ wake surfing committee during the September monthly meeting, noting that education rather than regulation was the appropriate direction for responsible boating on Lake Norman.  NMMA’s Lee Gatts is working with the LNMC and WSIA to enhance and improve education efforts moving forward.  

Fishing: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has announced a fall red snapper season for private recreational anglers and state for-hire operations in the Gulf of Mexico to open on the following Saturdays and Sundays: Oct. 17, 18, 24, 25, 31 and Nov. 1.

During this season, private recreational anglers may harvest red snapper in Gulf state and federal waters. However, state for-hire operations are limited to fishing for red snapper in Gulf state waters only. “I’m excited to announce this additional Gulf red snapper fishing opportunity,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis. “I hope Floridians and visitors can use this extra time to get out on the water and enjoy themselves.”

“The years of collaborative work with stakeholders and partners has resulted in a significant increase in the number of fishing opportunities over the past few years, from just a few days to 51 red snapper fishing days in Gulf state and federal waters this year,” said FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton.

In Florida, several recreational and commercial stone crab regulation changes go into effect for the October 15 season start date.

New regulations in effect this season:

  • The minimum claw size limit will be 2 7/8 inches (an 1/8 inch increase).
  • Possession of whole stone crabs on the water will be limited to two checker boxes, each up to 3 feet by 2 feet by 2 feet OR a total volume of 24 cubic feet. Checker boxes are used to hold crabs onboard a vessel before they are measured, and legal-sized claws are removed.
  • The season will now end on May 2.
  • All plastic and wood stone crab traps will need to be outfitted with a 2 3/16-inch escape ring before the 2023/2024 season.

Recreational harvesters who are age 16 and older and fish with traps are required to complete an online, no-cost recreational stone crab trap registration and place their registration number on their traps before using them. To register, visit GoOutdoorsFlorida.com. Upon completion, each person will receive unique trap registration numbers that must be included on each trap along with the owner’s full name and address. This information must be legible and must be permanently attached to each trap.

Environmental Regulation: With significant lobbying by NMMA, Florida revised its permitting process for the repair or replacement of residential docks to reduce the ability of local governments to seek redundant permit reviews by state environmental officials. This change was triggered by complaints from citizens who faced unnecessary requirements when repairing docks damaged by hurricanes.