More than a year after Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley filed a bill to make duck boats safer, the Senate may finally be ready to act.
Hawley's plan is scheduled for markup in the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Wednesday and could go to the floor for a vote after that.
The bill recently picked up a Democratic co-sponsor in Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, and a spokeswoman for Hawley said he thinks it could achieve final passage before the 116th Congress ends Jan. 3.
If it doesn’t make it through the House and Senate by that deadline, Hawley will have to refile the bill in the next Congress.
The legislation is aimed at preventing a repeat of the failures that led to the deaths of 17 people on Table Rock Lake two years ago.
It would do that by making the U.S. Coast Guard require duck boats to have ballast tanks that help them avoid sinking if they flood. It would also add several requirements for operators, including:Removing canopies that make it difficult for passengers to escape a flooding boat; Requiring passengers to wear life jackets; Installing independently-powered bilge pumps to remove water from a flooding boat; and Ensuring boats are watertight before entering the water.
The duck boat that sank near Branson two years ago featured a canopy atop the craft, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol found no passengers or crew were wearing a life jacket.
Hawley’s bill will also require operators to check National Weather Service forecasts before getting underway and periodically while on the water. They’ll also be required to leave the water or find safe harbor if the service issues a watch or warning for wind speeds exceeding a vessel’s certification.
On the day of the Branson sinking, the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm watch for southwest Missouri — including Table Rock Lake — several hours before a fast-moving storm passed through with 60-80 mph winds that overtook the boat.
Other co-sponsors include Republicans Roy Blunt of Missouri and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, where a similar tragedy played out in 1999 with no action taken.
Former Sen. Claire McCaskill, the Democrat Hawley unseated in 2018, filed a similar bill that failed to pass.
“For decades now, Congress has failed to take action to help stop these tragedies from happening again,” Hawley said in a statement. “The disaster on Table Rock Lake was sadly not an isolated incident. My colleagues on both sides of the aisle share my concerns and have come together to implement basic safety standards in every state in which these rides are available.”