Florida bill could restrict boat inspections

A Florida state lawmaker introduced legislation that would require officials to have probable cause before searching boats.
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A Florida state lawmaker introduced legislation that would require officials to have probable cause before searching boats.

Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, said he is tired of having his boat boarded by state and federal authorities who are searching for violations.

If the proposed law, House Bill 703, passes, it would take effect July 1 and apply to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers, county deputies and municipal police officers.

The proposal would revise state law relating to reckless or careless operation of a vessel; delete provisions authorizing law enforcement boat inspections; and revise the authority of law enforcement officers to conduct certain investigations.

"Me and my friends get pulled over all the time, and it's never because we're doing something wrong," Workman told Florida Today.

Workman said he does not want to keep law enforcement officers from doing their job, but he wants stops on state waters to be more reasonable. He said he will work with the FWC as the legislation is developed.

A safe-boating sticker next to the boat's registration could help signal that a boat has been inspected, he said.

"You've stolen time from my family and nobody has asked you, in my opinion, to be the safety police," Workman said of such scenarios. "I don't need anybody else nannying my children. I got it."

Since 2013, FWC warnings for boating violations have doubled in Brevard County, increasing to 2,464 in 2015 as citations dropped by almost a third, to 340. FWC officers wrote 488 citations and 1,101 warnings in 2013.

Under state law FWC officers can conduct boating safety inspections and marine fisheries inspections "when it is apparent that the boat occupants have engaged in highly regulated activities, such as fishing or hunting,” said Rob Klepper, a spokesman for the FWC's law enforcement division.

"FWC does not comment on proposed legislation," he said.

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