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.
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.
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.”
Sen. Joe Negron is set to be designated this week as the next president of the Florida Senate, with the event following the Palm Beach and Treasure Coast Republican lawmaker’s successful capping of a long intra-party fight for the top post.
The 26-member Republican caucus, which controls the 40-member Senate, is scheduled to meet at 2 p.m., Wednesday to formally select Negron as the chamber’s next leader.
Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, earlier set the date. But Negron’s claim remained clouded until earlier this month because of a challenge from Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who had his own pack of supporters.
Latvala, though, abruptly dropped his bid for the presidency in the closing hours of a special session on Senate redistricting. In throwing his support to Negron, whose district currently includes northern Palm Beach County, Latvala was named appropriations chairman under his former rival.
In the exchange, Negron will rise to one of the most powerful posts in state government, provided that Republicans maintain their Senate majority following next November’s elections. Latvala gets arguably the most influential job beneath the Senate president.
Less clear, however, is where Senate districts fall — and whether Negron, who lives in Stuart, will continue to represent Palm Beach County.
Lawmakers failed to reach a consensus during the special session on redistricting, leaving it to Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds to sort through proposed maps, sending what he considers the best to the Florida Supreme Court, which will decide the matter. A trial is set for Dec. 14-18.
In the map recommended to Reynolds by the Florida Senate, Negron’s district is pushed out of Palm Beach County. But in four maps proposed by a voters’ coalition challenging the Senate’s line-drawing, Negron would continue to represent a northern portion of the county.