A bill aimed at preventing tragedies like when two 14-year-old boys disappeared in a fishing boat off the coast of Jupiter in 2015 won approval from the House Government Oversight Committee Thursday.
House Bill 711, embraced by Blu Stephanos, the father of of one of the boys in that ill-fated boat, Austin Stephanos, would give Florida boat owners registration fee reductions if they install and register an emergency position-indicating radio beacon on the boat.
The goal, said sponsor Republican state Rep. MaryLynn Magar of Tequesta, is to encourage far wider-spread use of the devices, which she said can quickly lead Coast Guard and other authorities on rescue operations, instead of search-and-rescue, or search-and-recovery operations.
“This bill means a very lot to me and my family, to the foundation, and to my son, who’s not here. I have put a lot of thought, more than anyone, into what could happen here, and what could make a difference,” said Stephanos, who started the AustinBlu Foundation to promote boating safety for children. “And the only thing that could have made a difference that day, in my mind, to this day, is having a beacon on the boat.”
Republican state Rep. Colleen Burton of Lakeland then declared that her own son Tim was rescued just this past December.
“The reason Tim and his friend Billy were rescued, was because they had a personal locating beacon,” she said. “This is real life. It saves lives.”
The bill’s unanimous and enthusiastic approval was one of scores of items the committee took up, including dozens of local bills that would do everything from abolishing the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission to forcing the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority to offer toll discounts to drivers who use transponders to pay tolls electronically.
The committee face a few controversial measures, even from the local level.
From Gainesville, the committee took up a local bill that would establish a city vote on a charter change that would restructure governance for the Gainesville Regional Utilities. The citizens would be asked to take power over the municipal power company away from the city council and create a commission, appointed to 12-year terms by the city council, to run it instead.
The bill, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Charles Wesley Clemons Sr. of Newberry, was being pushed by the Gainesville chamber of commerce and other business groups who complained that the GRU’s utility rates are too high, second-highest in the state.
The city opposed it though, and Alachua County, while it took no position this year, has opposed similar measures proposed the past three years. The Alachua legislative delegation voted 3-1 to support.