Boat safety bill in choppy water

Posted: Monday, April 24, 2000

A bill Rep. Bill Hudson said has a ``guaranteed outcome of saving lives'' passed the state Senate last week.

But the Juneau Republican is not celebrating yet. House Bill 108 may still be reconsidered on the Senate floor. Also, although it already passed the House, it will need to make another pass through that body because the Senate changed the bill.

House Bill 108, sponsored by Hudson, would have required owners of all motorized recreational boats, plus kayaks and canoes longer than 10 feet, to register with the state and carry safety equipment. Children younger than 13 would be required to wear life jackets under the bill.

Other than the nonmotorized boats section, the requirements are already part of federal law. The primary purpose of the legislation is for the state to take over the federal program, thus becoming eligible for another $600,000 in federal funding, according to Hudson.

That is money that will be used primarily for educational programs, he said, and that's why he views it as a life-saving bill.

``The education is absolutely the key,'' he said. ``The marine environment is a foreign environment to many people, more so in Alaska than you would think.''

Wearing life jackets, knowing how to swim and learning other safety tips will save lives, he believes.

``We hope to have really meaningful programs going on in schools all over the state of Alaska,'' he said.

Alaska's boating death rate is about 10 times the national average, Hudson said. Alaska is the only state that hasn't taken over the boating safety program from the federal government. Boating fatalities have been halved after states took over the program, he said.

The bill passed the Senate 18-0 on Friday, but may be brought up again for reconsideration.

The Senate version of the bill is different from the version that passed the House earlier this year. The House version exempted human-powered vessels, such as kayaks and canoes.

The two sides will have to agree on one version before the measure goes to Gov. Tony Knowles for his signature.

Hudson said previous attempts to set up a state boating safety program have run into end-of-session troubles in previous Legislatures.

``Really good bills often become political fodder at the tail-end of a session,'' he said. ``I'm holding my breath even now for that reason.''

The House version of the bill passed on a 34-5 vote. Opponents there objected to the increase in bureaucracy that would result from the program and worried the regulations might be enforced selectively.

Knowles' spokesman Bob King said the governor supports the bill.

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