LIBERTYVILLE – Like driving, boating should require a license, several attendees of a packed public hearing argued.
“In Illinois, you need a license of some kind to fly an aircraft, fish, sell insurance, cut hair ... you need it to put fingernail polish on – but not to operate a watercraft,” said Rob Hardman of Antioch. “That’s insane.”
The crowd at Thursday’s hearing – some carrying “Boaters are Voters” signs – gathered at a state Senate committee hearing on three bills aimed at improving boating safety.
The bill that drew the most criticism would suspend the driver’s licenses of those convicted a second time of boating under the influence.
Another would require boats towing a person to display a red or orange flag, something that several commenters – both proponents and opponents – suggested changing to when someone is in the water, not just being towed.
The final bill would require people born in 1990 or later to have a boating safety certificate before piloting a boat. Now, only those ages 12 through 17 need the certification to pilot a boat.
“What we’re moving toward is mandatory education in this proposal,” said Joe Morelock, acting deputy chief of the Illinois Conservation Police.
About two-thirds of people who signed up to testify were opposed to at least one of the proposed bills, said state Sen. Julie Morrison, chairwoman of the special committee.
David Zipp, an Ingleside attorney who frequently represents people charged with boating under the influence, said that operating a boat under the influence is unrelated to driving. The proposed law would put the state on a slippery slope to tying other offenses to people’s licenses, he said.
The change would serve as a deterrent, Morelock said.
“A common question asked by a violator that we catch operating under the influence is, ‘How does this affect my driver’s license?’” he said. “And it’s interesting that as soon as you tell them, ‘It doesn’t affect your driver’s license,’ they cooperate fully with taking any tests or anything else you want to administer.”
So far this year, 51 people have been charged with operating boats under the influence on the Chain O’ Lakes, Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Marc Miller said. In 2012, that number was 100, which was nearly half the total number of people charged statewide.
“People who say there’s no connection between driving and boating – a lot of those people don’t live on the Lakes,” Margaret Borcia said. “When they get off the boat, they’re getting in their car and driving.”
Borcia’s 10-year-old son, Tony, was killed when he was hit by a boat driven by a man who later pleaded guilty to driving under the influence.
Morrison, the legislation’s’ sponsor, is Tony Borcia’s aunt.