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Article updated: 8/30/2013 10:40 AM

State Senate committee hears opinions on tougher boating regulations

By Bob Susnjara

Proposed tougher watercraft regulations, including the loss of driving privileges on land for operating a boat under the influence, elicited differing opinions at a state Senate committee hearing Thursday in Libertyville.

Lumping vehicle and boating DUIs together are among the proposals spurred by the 2012 death of a 10-year-old boy who was struck by an impaired boater on the Chain O' Lakes.

Rita Kreslin, executive director of Schaumburg-based Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists, said her group favors DUIs being the same for boats and vehicles.

"I would hope that, in the future, that people that don't think that drinking and driving a boat is just as important as not drinking and driving a car are just totally misled, and you must realize that there are real victims and people behind these tragedies," Kreslin said.

But attorney David Zipp of Ingleside criticized the idea, calling it "a slippery slope" that could be used to punish just Illinois residents. He said police patrolling the waterways already have the power to stop boaters at any time, unlike vehicles.

"Let's keep things in perspective and let the punishment fit the crime," Zipp said.

Democratic state Sen. Julie Morrison hosted Thursday's two-hour session of the Senate Special Committee on Watercraft Safety. Her nephew, Tony Borcia of Libertyville, died while tubing with his family on Petite Lake after he was hit by the impaired boater.

At issue were the following proposals submitted by Morrison in the state Senate:

Anyone convicted of operating a watercraft under the influence would have their driving privileges on land suspended for three months.

Residents born on or after Jan. 1, 1990, would be prohibited from operating a watercraft without a valid boat safety certificate from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Operators of a watercraft towing a person behind a boat would be required to display an orange flag.

Morrison told the crowd packed into a Lake County Central Permit Facility room that 161 opponents to the bills registered for the session, with 65 listed as in favor and 14 neutral. She was joined on the Senate panel by Republicans Pamela Althoff of McHenry and Dan Duffy of Lake Barrington, and Democrats Melinda Bush of Grayslake and Terry Link of Waukegan.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources officials and law-enforcement representatives explained the proposals, followed by various speakers. Several spectators had signs that read "Boaters Are Voters."

Tony's mother, Margaret Borcia, said she appreciated the Senate panel having a constructive conversation about boating safety. "I believe all of these (proposed) measures are very helpful," Borcia said.

Christopher Allen, who started the Boaters United Facebook site in response to Morrison's legislation, said he and other local boaters support making the Chain and other lakes safer, but it should be without government intervention.

"To try to create the best way to promote safety, I really think should be started from the ground up," Allen told the committee. "Instead of the government putting their finger down, most of these people have lived out here all their lives, boated all their lives, and they can help promote safety. We've talked among ourselves, we've pulled other boaters aside, we've educated other boaters."

Many speakers supported the proposed requirement of having an orange flag raised in the back of a boat that's towing someone in the water, and backed more education for those who ply the waterways. Some suggested an education requirement for those who rent boats.

Other Senate hearings to collect opinions on the proposed tougher boating regulations will be held across Illinois, Morrison said. She's said the proposals could change before lawmakers debate them.

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