House Bill 397 — Motorized Watercraft Regulation

House Bill 397 — Motorized Watercraft Regulation

by
Parrish Miller
February 13, 2020
Parrish Miller
February 13, 2020

Bill description: HB 397 makes numerous changes to the regulations and penalties related to personal watercraft.

Rating: -1

Does it directly or indirectly create or increase penalties for victimless crimes or non-restorative penalties for nonviolent crimes? Conversely, does it eliminate or decrease penalties for victimless crimes or non-restorative penalties for non-violent crimes?

Current Idaho law defines a "personal watercraft" as "a small vessel which uses an outboard motor or an inboard motor powering a water jet pump as its primary source of power and is designed to be operated by a person sitting, standing or kneeling on, rather than in the conventional manner of sitting or standing inside the vessel." Examples of this product include Jet Ski, WaveRunner, and Sea-Doo, all of which are trademarked names.

HB 397 amends Section 67-7031, Idaho Code, which covers what cities, counties and other political subdivisions of the state can do to regulate these products. Specifically, it replaces the term "personal watercraft" with the term "motorized watercraft." The latter term appears to be undefined in Idaho statute, but in common parlance and the statutes of other jurisdictions, it includes far more than that which is encompassed by the term "personal watercraft." Without a clear statutory definition, we must interpret this change as extending local regulations over speedboats, motorboats, and other such motorized watercraft.

(-1)

HB 397 amends Section 67-7033, Idaho Code, which specifies the penalties for violating the provisions of section 67-7016, 67-7017, 67-7025, 67-7026, or 67-7027, Idaho Code. It lowers the penalty for a first offense from a misdemeanor to an infraction and removes the possibility of jail time. It keeps the $300 maximum fine in place. It adds a requirement that violators must "successfully complete a course on safe boating approved by the state boating law administrator." On balance, this represents a reduction in penalties for first-time offenders.

(+1)

Unfortunately, HB 397 increases the penalties for a second or subsequent offense by raising the maximum fine from $300 to $1,000 (an increase of 233%) and by requiring that violators "successfully complete a course on safe boating approved by the state boating law administrator." Additionally, it allows courts to refuse violators "the privilege of operating any vessel on any of the waters of this state for a period not to exceed two (2) years." This is troubling both because it represents a significant increase in penalties and it defines operating a vessel on the waters of this state as a revocable privilege rather than a right.

(-1)

Analyst's Note: HB 397 adds an additional subsection to Section 67-7033, Idaho Code, which reads as follows: "Nothing in this section shall relieve any person who operates a motorized watercraft of the responsibility for their actions while operating on the waters of the state, including but not limited to negligent or nonnegligent actions that cause damage to private property."

While this language does not represent any material change to the code, it does provide some useful language that could effectively replace the entire "Idaho Safe Boating Act." The current definition of “negligent operation” requires law enforcement officials to speculate about the state of mind of the person operating a watercraft. Instead, the code could simply state that "any person who operates a motorized watercraft shall bear full responsibility for their actions while operating on the waters of the state, including but not limited to negligent or nonnegligent actions that cause injury to persons or damage to private property."

In this way, the enforcement of victimless crimes could be reduced and the focus returned to requiring restitution for actions that actually harm the lives or property of others. 

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