Congress to consider measure stemming from missing Tequesta teens

A memorial last summer to missing Tequesta teens
A memorial last summer to missing Tequesta teens

Days after state lawmakers approved legislation inspired by last summer’s tragic loss at  sea of two Tequesta teenagers, a measure has been proposed in Congress also aimed at enhancing boating safety.

U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy, a Jupiter Democrat, and Tom Rooney, a Republican from Okeechobee, have filed the Austin and Perry Safe Boating Incentive Act, a proposal to offer a tax credit to boaters buying safety beacons for themselves or their water craft.

In Tallahassee, Gov. Rick Scott has until March 26 to act on a bill approved last week by the Legislature which would give boaters a slight reduction in the annual vessel registration fees if they have emergency position indicator radio beacon (EPIRB) or personal locator beacon for their boats.

Lawmakers portray their effort  as a legacy for the 14-year-old friends, Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, missing since sailing out of Jupiter Inlet last July.

“Last summer, our community was shaken by the loss of Austin and Perry. Like them, I grew up on the water, and it has always been a major part of my life. But unfortunately, tragedy can strike anyone at anytime,” Murphy said.

Rooney said, ““This bill is a concrete step in attempting to prevent future tragedies and to help save lives.”

 

What you need to know about proposed law inspired by missing Tequesta teens

Candles burn as night falls at the Jupiter Inlet, where Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen took their small boat out on July 24, 2015. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Candles burn as night falls at the Jupiter Inlet, where Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen took their small boat out on July 24, 2015. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

A proposed law could help improve boater safety, and it’s inspired by two missing boys who were lost at sea this summer.

Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen were 14 when they went missing in July after leaving the Jupiter Inlet on a 19-foot boat.

Austin’s father, Blu Stephanos, is backing a proposed law that could help prevent something like what happened to his son from happening to someone else.

Here’s what you need to know about the proposed law:

What would it do? The bills (SB 746, HB 427) would reduce boat registration fees by about 25 percent for boaters who purchase and register either an emergency position indicator radio beacon (EPIRB) or a personal locator beacon. For boats between 16 feet and 26 feet, the most common in Florida, the savings would cut the annual state fee from $33.50 to $28.75, the Palm Beach Post has reported.

Who is behind the bills? Two Palm Beach County legislators have proposed the bills: state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, whose district includes a piece of northern Palm Beach County; and state Rep. MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta.

State Rep. MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta, stands with Blu Stephanos at a Dec. 15, 2015, Palm Beach County Commission meeting. (staff photo/Eliot Kleinberg)
State Rep. MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta, stands with Blu Stephanos at a Dec. 15, 2015, Palm Beach County Commission meeting. (staff photo/Eliot Kleinberg)

Where do the bills stand now? Both bills are moving through the Legislature’s pre-session committee process. Florida’s legislative session begins in January, which is when the bills will be debated and possibly passed.

What happens next? If both Florida’s House and Senate approve the bills, and Gov. Rick Scott signs off, the law would go into effect July 1, 2016.

Who else is supporting the bills? The Palm Beach County Commission voted unanimously this week to give its support to the proposed law.

How would it be promoted? Negron and Magar have said the state’s Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles would run a promotional campaign. Blu Stephanos said the AustinBlu Foundation, started in memory of his son, would help promote the law as well.

These devices can be pricey. Why not offer a state rebate or other incentive to buy them? Negron and Magar say the registration-fee incentive could mean a reduction in up to $5 million coming to the state, where rebates could be far costlier. They expect people will be more interested in this incentive program. “People are very motivated when … they can get a discount on something,” Negron told the Palm Beach Post in November.

Isn’t there another boater safety bill proposed as well? Yes. That bill would raise the age limit for operating a personal watercraft, and possibly serve as a first step toward creating a minimum boating age. However, the families of both Austin and Perry said they do not agree with the bill. “I’ve spent enough nights beating myself up about what I could’ve done and what I should’ve done,” Blu Stephanos told The Palm Beach Post in November. “My son was 14 years old and he could drive a boat better than anyone … knowledge and just having the right stuff on the boat makes all the difference in the world.”

Read more about the proposed law.

Palm Beach Post staff writer John Kennedy contributed to this report.