Newly Expanded Parasail Bill Nearly Fails, Now Heads To House Floor

Apr 16, 2014

A measure aimed at regulating Florida’s parasail industry is heading to the House floor. But, the newly expanded bill almost became collateral damage, after an initial attempt to pass the bill in its last committee failed.

The Original Bill

Florida’s parasailing industry gained national attention, after two Indiana teens were seriously injured in a Panhandle parasailing accident last year. Authorities say bad weather and heavy winds played a main role in that particular incident.

And, Rep. Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed (D-Deerfield Beach) says it’s been an ongoing issue in Florida that needs to be fixed since the water sport has no set regulations. She says she knows of two other incidents where severe weather conditions as well as malfunctioning equipment caused two young women to lose their lives.

“The bill will be named after Amber White, a 15-year-old who lost her life in a parasailing accident in 2007 and Kathleen Miskell, who died in a parasailing accident on August 15, 2012, while her husband watched,” said Clarke-Reed.

So, Clarke-Reed’s bill stops parasailing if there are heavy winds or storms in the area, makes sure operators carry proper functioning equipment, and requires the minimum amount of insurance needed to do business in the state.

Parasail Bill Fails, Gets Resurrected

Normally, measures like this get quickly taken up for a vote. But, this time, that didn’t happen in last week's House Regulatory Affairs hearing. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) tried to expand the measure to include kiteboarding and kitesurfing, two other recreational water-based activities.

But, Rep. Jim Waldman (D-Coconut Creek) objected to introducing those amendments. He says those activities—more along the lines of individual water sports—have nothing to do with the bill regulating an actual commercial industry.

And, the panel’s chair, Rep. Doug Holder (R-Venice) agreed.

“Both amendments substantially expand the scope of the bill and is intended to accomplish a different purpose than that of the pending question,” said Holder. “Therefore, I find the point of order is well-taken and the amendments are out of order.”

And, the amendments were withdrawn. But, when the bill came up for an actual vote, the parasail bill failed 8-9 with most Republicans voting against the original measure.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) asked for the bill to be reconsidered at the panel’s next meeting. But, some lawmakers pointed out that Holder had mentioned this was their last one.

And, Waldman, as the panel’s High Ranking Democrat, took issue with that.

“You basically killed the opportunity for this bill to go forward and to start saving lives. I find it outrageous. I find it unprofessional. That’s not the way this process works. If there was a deal cut to put something in that was not germane, maybe someone should have let me in on it. But, you didn’t! And, so now to hold hostage a bill is wrong, and this is going to fail now because this is our last meeting,” argued Waldman.

About an hour later, Holder allowed the measure to come up for another vote. This time, though, it was Waldman who brought forth the very same amendments, with a little tweak.

“Amendment 1 prohibits operation of any vessel towing a parasail or engaging in parasailing or moor ballooning within two miles of the boundary of an airport unless otherwise permitted by federal law. It also prohibits engaging in kiteboarding or kitesurfing within areas, which extends one-mile in direct line along the centerline of an airport runway, which has a width measuring one-half mile unless otherwise permitted under federal law, and this also has a title amendment,” said Waldman.

And, that tweak to make the measure more germane included changing its title from a “bill relating to commercial parasailing” to a “bill relating to commercial and recreational water activities.”

And, with that, the measure passed unanimously 17-0 out of the committee. Still, following the vote, Waldman says he doesn’t believe the amendments were needed. But, he only agreed to re-introduce the changes to move the bill along.

Why The Amendments?

So, what was the reason for the amendments? It was actually pushed by Representative Holder—the panel’s chair—who says he did it as a safety precaution because of an airport in his community.

“Smaller planes as their flying into their approach with runways have issues with kiteboarding and parasailers that are very close to the runway as their doing their approach, and so, we wanted to make sure that we included in the bill that there would have to be at least a two-mile barrier from the end of the runway to the body of water that their actually conducting these water sports in,” said Holder.

As for Delray Beach Democrat Maria Sachs, the bill’s Senate sponsor, she says she still hasn’t talked to Representative Holder, but she respects his judgment, adding she’s sure he had a good reason for the amendments.

Meanwhile, her measure already passed the full Senate and is waiting to be taken up by the full House. And, if it does pass the House, it most likely will be taken up again by the Senate since the bill has now changed.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.