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Boating safety legislation dies in House committee

BOISE – Idaho lawmakers rejected boating safety legislation Thursday that would have restricted young children who operate motorboats and personal watercraft.

“I think it needs more work. I hope they’ll come back with a better bill next year,” said Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene.

It was the state Department of Parks and Recreation’s second try this year at safe-boating legislation. The House Resources Committee refused to introduce the first version because members said it went much too far, applying education requirements to adults and restricting kids from operating all types of vessels.

The latest bill, HB 499, would have required anyone under 14 to pass a state boating safety course and be supervised by an adult to operate any motorized vessel, including Jet Skis and other personal watercraft. It also included restrictions on overloading vessels and on negligent operations.

Committee members noted that four Idaho counties – Bonner, Kootenai, Benewah and Valley – already have some age restrictions by local ordinance.

“Why do we need to do this, given that the counties have already got restrictions out there that are based on their own situation in their county?” asked Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover.

He noted that Bonner County’s ordinance bans kids under 10 from operating motorized craft without adult supervision, but it lets 10-to-14-year-olds operate boats with motors of 10 horsepower or less. That’s a better rule, Eskridge said.

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, said an exemption is needed for “a kid over 10 years old who wants to sit in a small boat with an electric trolling motor and go fishing. … We need to find a way to let that kid go fishing.”

The bill was killed on a voice vote, with just three of the committee’s 18 members voting in favor of it.

Dean Sangrey, a division administrator for the parks department, said Idaho and Alaska are the only two states without an age limit to operate motorized personal watercraft. “The department feels it’s a safety issue,” he told the legislators.

In Washington, personal watercraft operators must be 14. Washington also is phasing in mandatory safety training for operators of most powerboats. That requirement starts this year for boaters 20 and younger.

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