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COLUMN: Making our waterways safer

— As the boating season gets underway, many of us will be setting out on some of Central New York’s most beautiful waterways. Sadly, this summer pastime can turn tragic when reckless drivers get behind the wheel. That is why I have sponsored legislation in the New York State Senate to help make our waterways safer by strengthening our state’s boating laws.

I have sponsored a bill in the New York State Senate that would stiffen the penalties for individuals who leave the scene of a boating accident without reporting it, especially if they know someone is injured. During the summer of 2007, two tragic accidents occurred on Central New York lakes, after the boaters at fault left the scene without assisting those injured. My bill would make boating penalties consistent with penalties imposed for similar crimes that concern motor vehicles.

I am pleased to announce that the New York State Senate has passed my bill to increase the penalties for repeat offenders of drunken driving or boating. Under current law, there is no link between convictions of operating a boat, automobile, snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. That means a person presently convicted of driving a motor vehicle while intoxicated is treated as a first-time offender, if charged with boating while intoxicated. Providing a link between various offenses would hold violators accountable for a history of irresponsible behavior, and hopefully prevent tragic accidents in the future.

My legislation is named after Tiffany Heitkamp, a vibrant young Syracuse-area woman, who was killed while riding in a boat being operated by an intoxicated individual with a record of alcohol-related car accidents. he bill must still be approved by the New York State Assembly.

The New York State Senate has also passed a bill that I sponsored, which would require anyone under the age of 21, who has been convicted of an alcohol-related boating offense, to complete a boating safety course and obtain a safety certificate before operating a water craft again.

I will continue to fight for legislation to improve the safety of all New Yorkers, and I will keep you informed of my progress. I hope you have a safe and enjoyable summer.

John DeFrancisco is a member of the New York State Senate representing residents in Central New York.

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