Letter to the Editor: Boating safety bill fiasco

By Randall Smith
Posted 5/4/23

The long-awaited Boating Safety and Education Bill finally made it to the floor of the House after waiting three years.

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Letter to the Editor: Boating safety bill fiasco


The long-awaited Boating Safety and Education Bill finally made it to the floor of the House after waiting three years. The bill has to pass two more votes in order to move forward. However, what happened on Thursday, April 27, was a free for all with amendments added to the legislation in an effort to kill it. 

Both parties are responsible for what happened Thursday. Laura Hudson’s Victim’s Right Advocate said in her 41 years working on victim issues at the Statehouse, she had never seen what transpired Thursday in the House of Representatives. Last year the legislation was blocked by boat and jet ski rental companies that said the bill would hurt their business, so a provision was added this year by the Senate to help their business. Opposition to the legislation in the House is like playing whack-a-mole. The good old boys really don’t want anyone interfering with their playground. And for some, it would not matter what safety legislation was introduced. They would oppose it. Debate was cut short Thursday and the Bill was put off until next Tuesday.

Some of Thursday’s amendments were just absurd! For example, Rep. Phillip Lowe (R-Florence) wanted an exemption for hunters and fishermen from taking the course. The legislation as it is currently written would exempt boaters that have a Coast Guard license and anyone that had passed a National Association of State Boating Law Administrators-approved safety course. He went on to say he could not find anywhere on the state Department of Natural Resources’ website that the online course offered by the department was free. It is not, but the classroom course is. Not only does DNR offer a free course, BoatUS also does and theirs is online. This is an old tactic of misrepresenting a bill in a floor debate because the other members either did not study the legislation or, in the heat of the debate, they do not have time to check. Rep. Lowe has not checked with the hunters and fishermen either because an overwhelming majority support this legislation and the largest non-governmental organization that advocates for boating and fishing in our state, the South Carolina Boating and Fishing Alliance, supports the legislation. Thank goodness his amendment was defeated.

Next up, Rep. Todd Rutherford’s (D-Columbia) amendment stating that a boater should not be required to carry a boating safety certificate while operating a vessel or personal watercraft. The amendment goes on to state that the department shall maintain a database containing the names, addresses and certificate numbers of all people who have completed the boating safety education course. On the surface that sounds reasonable, but in reality, it is impossible to implement. What about tourists? How can DNR keep track of every person’s certification from every other state? What Rep. Rutherford did not know, or did not say, was DNR already does that for persons that take the department-sponsored course. I guess the next thing Rep. Rutherford will be asking for is an exemption for carrying your driver’s license. That would really work, would it not? 

It’s a bonehead, last-minute, not-researched amendments sound good, but in reality cannot be done. Unfortunately, enough members bought it, and his amendment was adopted.

But the one amendment that took the cake was by Rep. Steven Long (R-Spartanburg). He wanted to drop the age requirement and make everyone, regardless of age, be required to take a boating safety course. In other words, he wants to turn DNR into the DMV. Our state’s population is 5,282,634 and people under 18 make up 21.5%. Now, not everyone is a boater, but our state has 500,000 registered boats. South Carolina is second in the nation of boat owners per 1,000 people. That is 108,671. That works out to one in every 10 households owning a boat. How many years would it take to implement this? Has anyone even thought of the cost and resources needed to do this? No, and that might just be his intentions. Every piece of legislation has to have a physical impact statement. In other words, what will it cost the taxpayers to implement? With just a few days in this year’s session, it would virtually be impossible to have the cost information in time. But that might be his true reason after all.

Where were these House members when the bill was discussed in subcommittee? That would have been the proper time to bring up these questions. Yet they chose to spring these amendments on the last day of the week they were in session and the last bill on the list with every member wanting to go home.

This legislation was carefully crafted by Sen. Chip Campsen (R-Charleston) in conjunction with DNR using the best information available. Our state and four others are the only states that do not have a mandatory boater education requirement. The methods and language used in writing this legislation came from other states that have already done this. This legislation is supported nationally by Yamaha Motor Corp (USA, BoatUs, National Professional Anglers Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, and Personal Watercraft Industry Association.

What happened Thursday at the Statehouse is shameful. If you disagree with a bill, at least have the honesty to base your objection on facts and not double talk. Yet Thursday’s action by the House did not surprise me. I have noticed a change at the Statehouse. The House is not working with the Senate as they once did for the good of the people. It is as if most bills that originate in the Senate are DOA when they make it to the House. The Senate has passed this legislation unanimously for the past three years. Yet every time the Boating Safety and Education legislation makes it to the House, they find some way to kill it. In short, the purpose of the bill is to insure someone knows how to operate a boat or a jet ski before they kill someone or themselves. 

Randall Smith is the Lexington-based founder of Boating Safety South Carolina.

lake murray, sc boating safety, south carolina house of representatives


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