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Hawley introduces federal duck boat legislation

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U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, introduced federal legislation on duck boats after filing suit last year against Ride the Ducks Branson’s owner when he was still Missouri’s attorney general.

The federal legislation, called the Duck Boat Safety Enhancement Act of 2019, seeks to impose restrictions on the operation of amphibious vehicles in the wake of the summer 2018 Table Rock Lake accident that killed 17 people, according to a news release issued this morning.

The bill calls on duck boat operators to implement safety recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board over the accident in Branson and others involving amphibious vehicles, including a 1999 accident in Arkansas that killed 13 people.

“Missouri still mourns the lives lost on Table Rock Lake last summer. Sadly though, this tragedy wasn’t the first of its kind. For decades now, the NTSB has been making recommendations to make these rides safer, but Congress has failed to act,” Hawley said in the release. “It’s my goal to change that by introducing this legislation today. We have to protect safety on the water.”

The bill seeks to require duck boat operators to:
• outfit amphibious vehicles with passive reserve buoyancy;
• remove canopies on vehicles;
• install powered bilges and alarms;
• verify the integrity of any vessel before each waterborne venture;
• direct passengers not to wear their seat belts during waterborne operations; and
• to implement weather emergency preparedness requirements, such as limiting the weather conditions in which amphibious vehicles can operate.

If approved, the legislation would prohibit duck boats from operating if they don’t meet the requirements, according to the release.

As attorney general of Missouri last year, Hawley sued Branson Duck Vehicles LLC and Ripley Entertainment Inc. on six counts of violating the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act. Hawley’s office alleged the defendants operated an amphibious vehicle they knew was dangerous and “made false promises, fraudulent statements and misrepresentations to consumers that safety was their top priority when in actuality it was their own profits,” according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

The suit was remanded in January amid federal investigations into the accident, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.

Ripley Entertainment last month announced plans to replace the Ride the Ducks Branson depot with a new attraction called Branson Top Ops. Officials said Ride the Ducks would not operate this season.

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