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Florida Keys News
Monday, February 24, 2014
Parasail safety bills refiled

State legislators have refiled legislation this year that could place tighter controls on parasail operators.

A Senate bill and companion bill in the House of Representatives would prohibit parasail boats from operating when sustained winds are 20 mph or greater, and there are known thunderstorms in the area, according to the bills that would also require operators to carry $1 million in insurance and have equipment on board that monitors the weather.

The most recent legislation does not go as far in terms of regulating the industry as last year's bills, which died before receiving full votes on both floors. The legislation added requirements on gear and how often ropes needed to be replaced.

The legislation is called the White-Miskell Act, named in memory of Amber White and Kathleen Miskell, who were killed in separate parasailing accidents in Pompano Beach in 2007.

The girls' deaths brought greater scrutiny to the parasail industry.

Maria Sachs, D-Del Ray Beach, and Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed, D-Pompano Beach, vowed to refile the legislation after two teenage girls were seriously injured in 2013 while tandem parasailing off Panama City. Alexis Fairchild and Sidney Good, both 17, were hospitalized July 1 after smashing into two buildings, a power line and a parked car.

Sachs attended a parasail symposium put on by the Water Sports Industry Association in St. Petersburg before filing her bill. She wanted to reach out to the industry for its input, she said.

"No one knows it better than they do," Sach said. "Weather has been the biggest risk factor. It's (the legislation) good for the industry. I want to encourage the activity and protect it."

Islamorada parasail operator Rob Reiner is not opposed to legislation, and his company already abides by the proposed regulations, he said. He actually carries double the required amount of insurance and does not fly during storms or when the winds exceed 20 mph.

"We follow everything they want," Reiner said.

But Reiner, who owns Purple Island Parasailing, does not want to see overregulation.

Reiner was having his best year ever last year prior to Fairchild's and Good's accident. On the Fourth of July, he typically flies 30 people. He only flew eight people that day, he said. After the accident, his business was down by 30 percent, he said.

"Everybody I took out that day was talking about it (the accident)," he said.

The two bills are already making their way through committees and will be voted on sometime during the state legislative session in March. The session starts next week.

tohara@keysnews.com

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