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Commercial parasailing bill survives first Senate committee

A bill that would implement state regulation of commercial parasailing passed its first Senate committee Thursday by a vote of 6-1.

The "Alejandra White Act" (SB 392, HB 451), named for a Georgia woman who died after a parasailing mishap in Clearwater, would require vessel operators to employ a "designated observer" on rides, participants to wear life vests, a quick-release harness system for emergency evacuations, and towlines to be of a certain length, among several other laws.

The amended version that passed the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation committee would also require operators to carry insurance that covers at least $1 million per person, $2 million per event.

Most parasailing companies follow rules such as these voluntarily, said Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, the bill's sponsor, but the industry needs uniformity to prevent tragedies like what happened to Alejandra White.

Seven people have been injured while parasailing in Florida since 2001. Of those, four have died, according to staff analysis.

Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, was the only member to vote against the bill, much to the delight of a dozen or so tea party supporters who applauded his apprehension to "squeeze out the little guy" with costly regulations.

"We as government cannot protect everybody from everything, and I don't think we ought to try," he said.

Republican Sens. Jack Latvala and Nancy Detert said they, like Oelrich, are traditionally averse to expanding laws. This bill, however, would enact "common sense" regulation, she said. Both agreed tourists should be reasonably confident about the safety of recreational activities for which they pay.

Several representatives from water-sports associations and parasailing businesses spoke in support of having industry standards, though they were uneasy about the price of the insurance requirement. They said they would work with Jones ahead of the bill goes through its next two committee stops.

Read more from the Times about this bill here and here.