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Md. Senate debates need for bill banning drunken sailing

The Maryland Senate voted Friday to make it a crime to operate a sailboat while under the influence of alcohol — but not before encountering some headwinds from a member who said the measure wasn’t necessary.

“I’m saying it’s not a real problem,” Sen. Richard F. Colburn (R-Dorchester) told his colleagues during a debate in which he argued there was scant evidence to support the need for a new law and that it would be difficult to enforce, given the number of people it takes to operate some sailboats.

“I’m sure the Mothers Against Drunken Sailors are wholeheartedly in favor of this bill, and it would be bad to vote against Mothers Against Drunken Sailors,” Colburn said, later stating: “I really don’t believe this bill is necessary.”

His arguments did not prevail, but several colleagues sided with Colburn on the vote, which was 37 to 8 in favor of the prohibition.

Supporters said the legislation is intended to close a loophole in Maryland law. Currently, it is illegal to operate most vessels on the water while impaired or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

In 2010, the General Assembly intended to exempt rafting and kayaking but also inadvertently exempted use of non-motorized sailboats, according to legislative staff.

Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County) argued that the bill considered Thursday would fix that problem and was a common-sense safety measure.

“Do you want to be out on the Bay recreating if someone’s had 12 or 13 beers?” Brochin asked. “I don’t. Maybe you do.”

Under the bill, someone convicted of operating a sailboat while impaired by alcohol or drugs could face a fine of up to $500 and two months in prison for a first offense. The penalty for doing so while under the influence of alcohol is stiffer: up to $1,000 fine and a year in prison for a first offense.

Someone with a blood-alcohol concentration of .08 or more is considered to be under the influence of alcohol in Maryland.

The legislation passed by the Senate on Thursday now moves to the House of Delegates.

John Wagner is a political reporter covering the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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