Iowa's drunken boating law has apparently sunk to the bottom in a lake of sticky political mire.
Storm Lake State Representative Gary Worthan told the Pilot-Tribune Tuesday that the high-profile bill will not be allowed to come to a vote in the House this year, after passing the Senate unanimously last year.
If it had passed and been signed into law, the boating blood alcohol level in Iowa would have changed from .10 to .08, mirroring policy for road motor vehicles.
"It got lost in the inner workings of the House," Worthan said. "The majority leader [Kevin McCarthy, Des Moines] had problems with it, so he didn't want to pursue it, and that means it won't even come up for a vote." The majority leader, and a few trial lawyers who serve in the House, disagree sharply with the Senate's 50-0 approval..
"They have suggested that there are enforcement issues, such as probable cause for stopping a boater to check alcohol level," Worthan said.
"Personally, I don't think that was a reason to stop the bill. There are enforcement issues on any law - how do you determine if a driver in a car is weaving enough to stop? It's always a judgement call."
Worthan, with popular recreation area Storm Lake in his district, was in favor of passing the bill.
So was Reo. Mike May, who represents Okoboji. He said that the bill was on the calendar for debate earlier this session, but then "disappeared." He kept asking to have it put back on, but the majority leader only indicated earlier in media reports that there would be a "50-50" chance it would come up.
Now, it appears the issue will go to a study committee after the session. "It is disappointing, but that's the nature of this place," Worthan said in an interview from the House floor this week.
If the study committee finds a way to satisfy the powerful legislators blocking on the issue, it could come to the floor of the legislature in 2009.
It was already approved by the House Natural Resources committee to come to the floor, in 2007.
"There are other issues that also should have come up for votes this session, but there are two or three people situated in positions where they can dictate what does and does not get talked about.
"It's basically a paper kill - they put so much paperwork to an issue to block it from going anywhere that its supporters eventually just give up on it," he said.
The drunken boating law was initially tied to a bill requiring life jackets for pre-teen boat passengers, but the .08 rule was pulled out before thw life jacket bill passed, according to Worthan.
Some House members also tried to change the nature of the bill - on one side seeking to exempt sailboats or boats traveling at slow speeds from being stopped, and at the other end of the spectrum, trying to make it illegal for anyone on board a boat to have an open container of alcohol.
The 2005 death of Perry dentist Michael Brosnahan in an alcohol-related hit-and-run accident caused by another boater at Okoboji helped to fuel the effort to pass the .08 limit last year.
Advocates of the bill point out that Iowa is among fewer than 10 states that have blood alcohol levels above .08, and unlike some stated, drunken boating penalties in Iowa do not count toward losing a license to operate a car.
Nearly one in four boat accidents in Iowa from 2004-2006 were alcohol-related, and with the number of boats rising by 11 percent since 1998. The alcohol issue has captured considerable public support, supporters say.
Jill Brosnahan, wife of the late Michael Brosnahan, has said lowering the blood-alcohol limit should be "a no-brainer."
Worthan tends to agree. "I think it's just common sense."
Deputy Gary Launderville of the Buena Vista County Sheriff's office, and the lone candidate to become the next sheriff, feels that it would be appropriate to change the boating blood-alcohol level to the same as that for other motor vehicles.
"As an avid boater, I can tell you that I would like to see this passed. As a law enforcement officer, I can tell you that it would sure make things better for us," Launderville said.
He said that a drunker boater is just as dangerous as a drunken driver. With Storm Lake rapidly gaining in tourism appeal, the issue may be more pressing than in the past.
"Over the past few years, we have had a few boating alcohol incidents, but the big problem is that we don't have the manpower to patrol the lake all the time. For the last couple of years, the DNR has provided a part-time person to help, but they may not be certified law enforcement officers," Launderville said.
"For example, I'm out on the lake, and I see kids riding jet skis who aren't old enough to be out there," the deputy said. "We can make all of the laws we want, but first you have to have the people to enforce them. Without that, I'm not sure those laws are worth the paper they are written on."