The Alabama House of Representatives narrowly rejected a bill Tuesday designed to increase boating safety on Alabama’s waters. House Bill 238 was sponsored by Rep. Ginny Shaver, R-Leesburg.
Shaver said the legislation was supported by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and is patterned on Georgia’s comprehensive boater safety law that was implemented in 2013. It is already in place in Lake Harding, which is on the Alabama-Georgia state line. Shaver said that she began working on the legislation following the 2019 boating season in which a record number of Alabamians were involved in boating accidents, including fatalities. Shaver said alcohol impairment causes many crashes.
Rep. Corey Harbison, R-Cullman, said: “The lake, particularly during the summer, is important to the Cullman economy.”
Harbison expressed concern that the requirement that boats be in idle speed whenever they are within 100 feet of a shore or a person in the water would force too many boats into the center of the lake.
Rep. Chip Brown, R-Mobile, said: “My biggest problem with this is the 100 feet requirement.”
Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, said: “Are we taking all the fun out of boating?”
Shaver said: “If you are pulling skiers or tubers you need to stay 100 feet from piers and the shore.”
Rep. Joe Lovvorn said: “I sold my home when we had our son because it had gotten so dangerous.”
Lovvorn said: “If a person is pulled over for erratic driving and they consume any amount of alcohol they could be charged with BUI (Boating Under the Influence).”
Greer said: “The part of the bill that I liked is the alcohol part. The part that I don’t like is the 50-foot requirement.”
The bill would have treated a BUI just like a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) and both would count against your boating and driver’s licenses.
Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley, said: “A law enforcement officer can stop every single boat on a lake and ask for a safety check and ask for a breathalyzer test. If he says I don’t want to do it, then he loses not just his boating license; but his driver’s license for 90 days under this. His driver’s license is suspended for 90 days. That is a major point.”
Shaver replied: “A BUI is a DUI. We are trying to treat them all the same.”
“This affects a persons ability to go to work on Monday,” Wadsworth said. “I am not going to support your bill.”
Shaver said, “That’s the problem. People don’t care if they get a BUI.”
Wadsworth said that many parents teach their kids to ski in the shallow water near the shore.
Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook, said: “In 2019, I was very concerned when we had all of those boating accidents and deaths on our lakes. I called ALEA to see what I could do to help and they said that Shaver was already working on it.”
“I know what you are trying to do is to make our waterways safer,” Faulkner said.
Shaver said: “We have not updated our boating laws since 1994 when we implemented the boating licenses.”
The Alabama House of Representatives narrowly voted down HB238 on a 42 to 45 vote. Tuesday was day 24 of the Alabama 2021 Legislative Session. The House will next meet on Thursday at 10 a.m. The Legislature will spend Wednesday working in committees.