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Bill passage could help South Florida's boating economy

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly approved the sweeping U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2007. 

The bill would authorize $8.7 billion in spending for the Coast Guard. It also includes several narrow provisions that address security of LNG terminals, invasive species and stricter reporting requirements for cruise ships, among other issues.

One of the thorniest issues in the bill is the provision making the Coast Guard enforce security zones around LNG tankers and terminals. The White House had complained the requirement would siphon valuable resources from the Coast Guard. That prompted a GOP-backed amendment, which permits the federal agency to take into consideration state and local government resources when determining security plans for LNG sites.

White House spokesman Trey Brohn told reporters the administration is concerned about several key provisions in the House bill, but will work with members of Congress as the legislation moves forward.

The Senate is considering its own version of the bill.

In South Florida, industry leaders praised the bill’s passage by the House because of a provision that provides a complete exemption for the service and repair segment of the recreational boating industry from the requirement for coverage under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, as long as state workers' compensation coverage is in place.

The provision in the Coast Guard bill also provides specific relief to manufacturers of recreational boats 165 feet or under. The provision was drafted by two Florida legislators, Democratic representatives Ron Klein and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who have consistently championed marine industry issues.

The issue has been a particularly hot topic in South Florida and the Marine Industries Association of South Florida has been lobbying for the exemption since 2001.

“This has been the No. 1 legislative priority for the recreational marine industry in South Florida for the past six years,” said Kristina Hebert, vice president of operations for Ward’s Marine Electric and past president of the MIASF. “If enacted, this legislation will have a major positive economic impact on South Florida as well as the rest of the country’s recreational marine industry.”

Organizations such as the Nature Conservancy also praise the bill’s passage because of a provision concerning ballast water treatment. The legislation requires ships in U.S. waters to install ballast treatment systems to eradicate invasive species carried in ships’ ballast water and to implement best management practices to address other ways in which invasive species can be spread from ships.

"While we are glad the House has passed this bill to shut the gates forever on aquatic nuisances," the bill needs to go further, said F. Ned Dikmen, chairman of the Great Lakes Boating Federation. “It is imperative that Congress provide an exemption for recreational boaters. Treating small craft like commercial ships isn't just misguided, it could ruin the $16 billion recreational boating industry."

—JoAnn W. Goddard



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