BOISE – Lawmakers rejected proposed safe boating legislation Thursday, saying it went much too far.
“You don’t even want a kid in a canoe, then, is that what this bill is saying? It’s what it reads,” said Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg.
Idaho’s Department of Parks and Recreation proposed the legislation, which focused on new age limits to operate boats or personal watercraft, limits on overloading vessels and banning negligent operations.
But department director Dean Sangrey ran into a hornet’s nest of questions and objections when lawmakers saw that the bill wouldn’t let anyone under 14 operate a boat or personal watercraft unless directly supervised by an adult; that it eventually would have required everyone, including adults, to pass a boater safety course and carry certification with them; and would have made it illegal to violate Coast Guard navigation rules that lawmakers on the committee had never seen and that weren’t listed in the bill.
“That needed some more work,” said state Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, after the House Resources Committee voted 17-1 to return the bill to its sponsor rather than introduce it.
Sangrey told the committee Idaho and Alaska are the only two states without an age limit to operate personal watercraft. In Washington, operators of Jet Skis, Sea-Doos and other personal watercraft must be 14 years old.
Washington also is phasing in mandatory safety training for operators of most powerboats. That requirement starts this year for boaters 20 or younger. More age groups will be added, up to age 70 in 2016.
Idaho “has been experiencing a significant increase in the number of children operating these – very young children, down to the age of 5 or 6 in some instances,” Sangrey said. “It is our considered opinion that these operators … don’t have the capacity to safely operate those high-powered vessels on the surface of those waters.”
While expressing shock over the idea of 5-year-old operators, lawmakers pointed out that the bill addressed not only personal watercraft, but all vessels, even though Sangrey said it was intended only to apply to motorized vessels.
That brought up concerns about kids in canoes, rafts and kayaks.
Sangrey said Idaho has seen 24 injuries among personal watercraft operators younger than 14 since 1995 and one fatality involving a 7-year-old operator.
State Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, said, “In my district, Priest Lake, Pend Oreille, we have competent operators under the age of 14 out there with personal watercraft and boats. I’m a little bit concerned the age of 14 is a little strenuous for what we have up there in my district.”
State Rep. Liz Chavez, D-Lewiston, cast the only vote in favor of the measure, saying unaccompanied 13- and 14-year-olds collided while on personal watercraft on the Snake River in her district last summer, with near-disastrous results.
“This happens all the time,” she said. “I don’t think we want a 10-year-old driving a car, and that’s what they were doing – they were driving a car on the Snake River, and they were doing figure-eights.”
Eskridge said afterward, “There are some bad actors out there on the lake. … We’ve got 30-year-olds that are acting dumber than our 10-year-olds. But we do have a problem. The question is how you get it under control.”
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