Lawmaker will try to revive personal watercraft bill

ST. PAUL (AP) — Civil penalties for bad personal watercraft operators are in a new plan coming up for House debate today.
“Citizens have been frustrated; they feel they have no recourse,” said Rep. Kris Hasskamp, DFL-Crosby, who hoped to rebound from a failed bid to tighten restrictions on the speedy machines.
On Monday, Rep. Charlie Weaver, R-Anoka, pledged to work to defeat it, a move that greatly reduces Hasskamp’s chances for success.
“The bottom line is we all want the same thing,” Weaver said. “We want responsible drivers and enforceable penalties for those who choose to break the law.”
But they differ in how best to do that. Weaver believes stronger enforcement of existing laws would suffice. Hasskamp says that’s not enough.
The main provisions of Hasskamp’s proposal include:
— Providing a process for Minnesotans to file complaints after witnessing violations. Currently, a law enforcement officer must witness violations.
— Prohibiting the operation of the craft within 200 feet of an occupied shore for more than 30 consecutive minutes.
— Increasing the no-wake zone from 100 feet to 200 feet from shore, docks or swimmers.
— Allowing operation on the lakes from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Current law allows operation from 8 a.m. to sunset.
“I think this could resolve a majority of the problems,” Hasskamp said of her latest plan.
As an alternative, Weaver plans to propose the Senate’s bill, which includes a 150-foot no-wake zone, limiting the hours from 9 a.m. to one hour before sunset, and a requirement that owners display a sticker on the machine listing the state’s watercraft regulations.
But Weaver, an Anoka County prosecutor running for attorney general, strongly opposed the civil penalty provision in Hasskamp’s bill.
That provision could allow for much “mischief” because no law officer would be required to see the offense, he said.
Hasskamp, however, said part of the enforcement problem is that not enough law enforcement officials can patrol for violations.
Under her proposed complaint process, which would be handled by the Department of Natural Resources and local law enforcement, a driver would be fined $75 for the first offense and $100 for the second. The money would go into the enforcement fund.
“I don’t like the idea of a civil penalty,” Weaver said. “We don’t do it for snowmobiles.”
The offenses would not be criminal violations. Hasskamp wasn’t sure she had enough support for another try but said she received many calls from constituents pleading for help after a recent legislative defeat.
If nothing is done, “it’s going to get worse,” she said.
Definitely out of consideration is a provision Hasskamp offered a couple of weeks ago that would have banned the machines on lakes 100 acres or smaller. The House defeated that provision 96-34. Hasskamp then pulled the bill from consideration.
About 27,000 personal watercraft — commonly known by the brand name Jet Ski — are registered in the state. Hasskamp has likened the sound of the craft to a chain saw buzz.