Senate, House pass bills to increase penalty for boat-related deaths

Published 1:06pm Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A bill calling for stiffer penalties for those involved in alcohol-related boating deaths was unanimously passed in the Senate Thursday. The House version was later passed Thursday afternoon.

The Senate bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Bryan Taylor (R-Prattville), had been sitting dormant in both houses of the state Legislature for almost four years before finally getting Thursday’s overwhelming approval.

The bill calls for anyone convicted of an alcohol-related death on any of the state’s bodies of water would be charged with first-degree assault and if convicted could face up to 20 years in jail.

At present anyone who is convicted of homicide by vessel is charged with an unclassified felony and is subject to a maximum jail term of five years.

“Nobody can argue that a life taken by drunk boater is somehow less valuable than a life taken by a drunk driver,” Taylor said. “A life is a life, and driving a car or a boat while drunk is equally irresponsible. The penalty should be the same.”

Taylor’s bill was passed in the Senate last year, but stalled in the House last year.

Taylor said he feels confident this bill will have the support in the House to become law.

“I expect it to be well-received in the House,” he said. “I haven’t met anyone who is opposed to it.”

The House version, which was sponsored by Paul Beckman (R-Prattville) also received overwhelming support Thursday afternoon. Now the bills will swap over to either sides of the Legislature and which ever bill is passed first will go to Gov. Robert Bentley to be signed into law.

The bill is especially poignant in Taylor’s district since three people died in the past decade at the hands of a drunk driver of a boat.

Two deaths were on Lake Martin, while the other was on Lake Jordan.

In all three cases the person charged with homicide by vessel served no more than one year in the Elmore County Jail.

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