By ELLEN STODOLA
ANNAPOLIS (March 16, 2012)—A bill (2012 Senate Bill 127) requiring large gatherings of boats, essentially floating parties, to obtain permits is on its way to a final vote in the Senate after several key amendments were approved Thursday.
"I was against the bill
when it first came in, and I brought up a lot of issues that I was concerned about," said Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel.
Simonaire led the charge to amend the legislation.
Amendments to the bill include doubling the number of boats that would require a permit for a gathering, adjusting penalties for violations and lowering to 45 the number of days in advance an organizer would have to apply for a permit with the Department of Natural Resources.
The legislation aims to address the strain large boating parties put on Natural Resources Police Officers trying to monitor people on the water. It was requested by the Department of Natural Resources.
Though the legislation won't affect things like races, regattas, parades, exhibitions or anything that already requires a permit from the Coast Guard, there are many big events in Maryland waters like Bumper Bash and Canal Day that could require a permit.
"Initially, the bill came in with undetermined and unlimited regulatory powers by DNR," Simonaire said.
Instead of the original 50 boat or more stipulation to obtain a permit, the bill now says events with 100 or more boats are subject to these permits.
The bill also outlines the penalties faced for violations, which include misdemeanor charges and fines which could be upwards of $1,000.
Unlike the first version, however, penalties would not include jail time.
Despite changes in the bill that address the concerns of organizers, this year's Bumper Bash event was recently cancelled.
The pressure of the permits was definitely a factor in the decision, said the event's organizer, Jimmy Jernigan. He said the bill helped him realize a lot needed to be changed.
"I understand it's a strain to resources," Jernigan said.
Jernigan said he's not against the bill and is willing to work with the Department of Natural Resources.
The bill could help make Bumper Bash safer in the future, Jernigan said, because requiring permits could help bring up concerns before an event.
Jernigan said he did not think it was possible to put Bumper Bash together this year because he would only have a short time to adjust for the event, which usually occurs in late July.
"There's a potential problem brewing in these large events," Simonaire said. "And we can sit back and wait until there's a problem and act legislatively, or we can say, you know what let's go out proactively and try to come up with a balanced approach that both sides can agree on and hopefully prevent some tragedy that doesn't need to happen."
The bill will give police departments, fire departments and Natural Resources Police notice so they can make necessary arrangements and determine how to deploy their resources while not taking away from other duties.
Despite the amendments, Sen. Edward Reilly, R-Anne Arundel, said he is still opposed to the bill.
Reilly called the legislation intrusive and said it goes against the First Amendment. He compared the legislation to trying to regulate people coming together in other locations, like parks.
"People have the right to gather," Reilly said.