Florida Senate passes two boating safety measures

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Senate unanimously approved 39-0 two boating measures on Wednesday, which will now head to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk, as reported by the local CBS affiliate in Miami.

The first measure, HB-427, would provide a discount of about 12 percent on annual vessel-registration fees next year if boaters show they have purchased and registered emergency locator devices.

The Senate had sought a permanent 25 percent discount, but the House would only earmark $250,000 toward the proposal for the fiscal year that starts July 1, according to Senate sponsor Joe Negron. He also said the Senate will need to “revisit” the measure next year if supporters want to continue the discount.

Under the proposal, discounts would be given to boaters who have or buy emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) devices. These devices cost anywhere between $200 and $1,500, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. To be activated, a device must be registered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The measure was introduced after Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, two 14-year-olds from Tequesta, went missing in July after steering a 19-foot boat out of the Jupiter Inlet into the Atlantic Ocean.

The second measure, HB 703, would revise a state law about carelessly operating vessels. It would redefine language to make it a violation only if the actions threaten “another person outside the vessel.”

Currently, boaters must operate in a manner that doesn’t endanger “any person,” which includes people inside vessels.

The measure also lessens the ability of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission law-enforcement officers, county deputies and municipal police officers to use the pretext of conducting safety inspections to stop and search boats if the vessels display commission safety-inspection decals.

The proposal wouldn’t prohibit officers from stopping boats when there is reasonable suspicion or probable cause that violations have occurred, such as over-harvesting lobster or fishing out of season.

The decal part of the bill comes as the commission has offered a voluntary decal program for nearly three decades.

“On busy days of patrol, it is not uncommon for us to forego stopping boats that display a current or recent safety inspection decal and focus on those which do not,” Florida Fish & Wildlife Law Enforcement Division Spokesman Rob Klepper said in an email last month. “We have always tried to make it clear to boaters that the decal isn’t a ‘get out of a boat stop free’ decal, rather something that we issue as a courtesy to boaters who are found to be in compliance.”

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