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Senate advances ‘modern-day piracy’ bill requiring marine towing estimates

A Senate bill seeking to control overcharging by marine salvage and towing companies passed its first committee Monday — despite some industry concerns.

SB 664, sponsored by Tampa Republican Dana Young, will require written cost estimates — if requested by customers — before a salvage or towing company can provide work costing more than $500.

Young filed the legislation last month to prevent what she called “modern-day piracy.”

“The actions of a limited number of these companies amount to a form of modern-day piracy, and it must stop,” Young said. “Unfortunately, there have been some terrible abuses in a system that many boat owners rely on.”

Young said consumers throughout the state feel “misinformed and misled” by ambiguous salvage claim fees that pop up when a boat owner requests last-minute aid on the water — particularly in a state such as Florida with an abundance of waterways and boating.

On Monday, Young told members of the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee of meetings she had with several industry representatives concerned about the bill.

Young said she expects to amend the bill to avoid deterring companies from “saving human lives, rescuing vessels and ultimately saving money over the long run by not having them sink.”

Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala wondered if Young wanted to build a “consensus package” instead of just kicking the bill “down the road.” She explained she wanted to work with the industry for an agreement, but did not promise a “Kumbaya moment.”

“I think we can get pretty darn close,” she added. “I am committed to working to do that.”

Bonnie Basham, who represents the BoatUS boat towing and insurance company, pointed out that the state of Florida is banned by maritime law against regulating price and penalties.

“We believe there is a better way to skin this cat and help these boaters, and we look forward to working with the senator on that,” she told the board.

Latvala was the only vote in opposition.

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