Senate OKs Bill on Boating, Alcohol

Des Moines Register – Iowa, one of the last hold-outs on lowering the boating while intoxicated blood-alcohol level may be on the verge of changing.

Boaters would be considered intoxicated when their blood-alcohol level is 0.08, not 0.10 – the same as for vehicle drivers, under a bill the Iowa Senate approved Wednesday.

It’s meant to crack down on people drinking too much, then driving recklessly around lakes and rivers.

This is the fourth time the bill has surfaced in the Legislature in recent years, but it’s the first time it appears to have a chance of approval by the Iowa House.

“I’m getting signals that it’s going to,” said Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, a key backer of the harsher drunken-boating law.

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha said Republicans would consider the bill.

Iowans who like to drink on party boats could still do so as long as the person driving the boat isn’t intoxicated, he said.

The proposal would apply to anyone driving a sailboat, personal watercraft or motorboat.

“If you’ve had too many, you’ve been consuming alcohol on the water and you’re at the legal limit of 0.08, you could go right to the ramp, load your boat on the trailer and drive away and you’re legally drunk,” Paulsen said.

A first-offense violation is punishable by up to 48 hours in jail, a $1,000 fine and a ban on operating a boat for a year. It would not affect driver’s licenses. But if a drunken boater causes a serious injury, it’s a felony punishable by up to a year in jail, a $7,500 fine and a six-year prohibition on driving a boat.

The Senate vote was 40-9. Voting against the measure were Republicans Bill Anderson of Pierson, Merlin Bartz of Grafton, Rick Bertrand of Sioux City, Bill Dix of Shell Rock, Tim Kapucian of Keystone, Steve Kettering of Lake View, Kent Sorenson of Indianola and Brad Zaun of Urbandale, as well as Democrat Wally Horn of Cedar Rapids. Kettering, whose district includes Storm, Black Hawk and Swan lakes, said: “There’s no data that supports that lowering (the limit) will save any lives whatsoever.”

Kettering also doesn’t like that the proposal applies to nonmotorized vehicles and to bodies of water on private property, such as farm ponds. He said he feels that way even though those factors are already part of the current law; the only change this bill makes is the blood-alcohol limit.

The bill, Senate File 7, now goes to the House.

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