A bill calling for stricter regulation, safer equipment requirements and insurance policies for commercial parasailing operators is set to hit the upcoming legislative session.
Those who have worked on the bill are optimistic that, unlike past attempts, it will be taken seriously and passed swiftly.
"I'd say we're going to pass it," said Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, who is sponsoring the bill. "When it was introduced before, the problem was there wasn't really a companion bill in the House as well. That will not be the issue this time."
Senate Bill 392, called the "Alejandra White Act" in honor of the 27-year-old tourist who died in September after a parasailing accident, will require operators to carry insurance that covers at least $1 million per person in case of injury or death. It also calls for a quick-release harness system that will allow the rider to free themselves in an emergency.
The bill details rules that parasailing operators must follow, such as staying off the water during high winds and carrying a U.S. Coast Guard-issued license allowing them to carry passengers for hire.
Any operator who doesn't follow the new laws could face second-degree misdemeanor charges, according to the bill.
Mark McCulloh of the national Parasail Safety Council, who once favored allowing the industry to regulate itself, helped draft the bill. He said self-regulation didn't work, citing White's death as the most recent example.
He said he has talked to about 30 of the 75 known parasailing operators around the state and heard a lot of positive feedback, but he expects some resistance to the bill.
"The more you have to give instructions and take the time to help customers understand, the more it takes away from your revenue," McCulloh said. "Every time you add responsibilities to an operator's agenda, it's not always welcome."
But it's time for change, Jones said.
"We've killed 15 people in the last 20 years," he said. "We certainly have a responsibility to make the sport safer, especially to our Florida guests."
The bill will be introduced when this year's legislative session begins March 8. If it passes, the Alejandra White Act would take effect July 1.
Emily Nipps can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8452.