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Boater law vote delayed, again

LAKE WYLIE --A change in boating laws on Lake Wylie is not final yet.

On June 16, North Carolina legislators passed the second of three readings that would make boater education requirement mandatory across the state. However, N.C. Rep. Paul Stam added an amendment to the House approval, which means the approved Senate version either could set up a concurrence committee to approve the change or require a full revote by both Legislatures.

"Nothing set in stone," said Brice Bratcher, legislative assistant to bill co-sponsor Sen. Doug Berger.

Because the revote process often is "saved" for "hot button topics," such as the state budget or issues requiring multiple amendments, it's likely the concurrence route will be used. That means a Senate committee reviews the amendment and determines whether it impacts the bill.

"It could go back to the Senate for concurrence, just a quick vote on the new bill," Bratcher said. "I think that's probably what's going to happen."

The second reading vote June 16 passed 79-33. A third reading set for the following day was postponed by the House to Wednesday this week. The bill would need to pass third reading and be signed by the governor to become law.

The amendment proposed by Rep. Stam takes out specific penalties for violations of the education requirement, replacing the proposed $100 penalty with an assessment for court costs with no additional penalty.

"It's a small change," Bratcher said. "It doesn't really change a lot of the bill."

Yet small changes since the bill was introduced leads former Lake Wylie Marine Commissioner and current Charlotte Power Squadron safe boating instructor Charles "Bo" Ibach to question whether the bill will pass soon.

"I think we're a ways away yet," Ibach said.

In many ways changes to the bill might help it pass, but also could render the new rule almost useless, Ibach said. For instance, statistics show middle age and older boaters are responsible for most boating wrecks, Ibach said.

"The law is missing about 80 percent of all the boating accidents that occur," he said. "I don't know really what's going to happen. I do think they honestly are going after the wrong age group."

If the bill eventually passes, it would require anyone born in 1984 or later to complete a certified boater education course before operating a vessel of 10 hp or more on North Carolina waters. The new rule would begin May 1, 2010. On Lake Wylie, the rule would be enforced on the North Carolina side of the state line, but not the South Carolina side. South Carolina has no such boater education law.

The latest amendment to take away the $100 penalty is not a major problem for Ibach, who would like to see the law carry no punitive recourse at all. Instead, he'd rather it serve as "a means to force people to get educated" by mandating that violators take a safe boating class.

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