"Truly, I am for boater safety," said Christopher Allen, representing Boaters United. "There are a lot of ways we can make the Chain, the lakes, a safer place."
What Allen doesn't agree with, however, is "big government" pushing legislation down on boaters. He'd rather see a boating safety initiative start as more of a grassroots movement, with boaters themselves promoting safety on waterways.
The Illinois Senate Special Committee on Watercraft Safety held the two-hour hearing in Libertyville to gauge public opinion on three pieces of proposed legislation:
- Senate Bill 1805, which would require the display of an orange flag while towing a person, including a person on an inner tube or water skis. The flag would need to be displayed when the person enters the water and while he or she is being towed, until he or she is back in the watercraft. This would pertain only to motorboats.
- Senate Bill 1478, which would prohibit anyone born on or after January 1, 1990 from operating a watercraft without a valid Boating Safety Certificate issued by the Department of Natural Resources.
- Senate Bill 1477, which would suspend the drivers license for three months of any person who is found to have operated a watercraft under the influence, upon a second conviction.
Committee chair State Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, noted that of the more than 220 people who registered to testify at the hearing, 161 registered as opponents of the legislation.
Marc Miller, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said his agency "supports water-based recreation of all kinds. But we only do so when those things are done in a responsible and safe manner.
"If you add alcohol or illegal substances to that, it is a recipe for certain disaster," said Miller. He noted that so far this year, 51 people have been arrested for operating under the influence on the Chain O'Lakes. In 2012, there were 209 OUI arrests statewide, and 100 of those occurred on the Chain.
"We are in support of the three bills," said Miller.
Illinois Conservation Police Sgt. Jamie Maul said that tying operating under the influence convictions to an individual's drivers license could serve as a deterrent. Some people who spoke at the hearing, however, disagreed. Rob Hardman said he feels that Senate Bill 1477 would put an undue burden on the boating community.
"People should not be not be allowed to operate a boat while intoxicated. However, one item does not have anything to do with another," Hardman said of tying OUI convictions to a person's drivers license.
Attorney David Zipp said such legislation would have "a chilling effect" on the businesses on the Chain and that the legislation seems to only target Illinois boaters.
"You're opening a slippery slope," said Zipp.
Libertyville resident Margaret Borcia, however, supports the measure. Her son, Tony Borcia, was struck and killed by a boat after he fell off of an inner tube on Petite Lake in July 2012. The driver of that boat, David Hatyina, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for a charge of aggravated DUI.
"The man that killed Tony had a previous OUI," said an emotional Borcia. "If he thought he might lose his license, maybe he wouldn't have been driving that day."
Morrison said the senate committee plans to hold similar hearings statewide.