- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 18, 2006

Apparently not content to confine their legislative excess to Wal-Mart and small business, Maryland Democrats now threaten the property rights of Maryland boaters, proposing a new bill ostensibly aimed at nothing more than attempting to “protect us from ourselves.”

House Bill 140 is a deplorable and intrusive bit of legislation that would require every individual on a boat to wear a personal flotation device (PFD) while the boat is under way. This bill not only requires the boat’s operator to wear a PFD but also specifically “prohibits an individual from operating or allowing the operation of a vessel while there is present in the vessel an individual not wearing a PFD” and “[applies] regardless of [an individual’s] age or size of the vessel.”

Considering that federal law already requires that all boats contain one properly-sized personal flotation device for every person onboard, this bill is a gratuitous display of legislative overreach that all too clearly creates the impression that the state rather than the individual knows what is in the best interest of individual citizens.

One normally would assume the absurdity of such legislation would require no explanation, but far too many Maryland legislators apparently are either unaware of or unconcerned about the importance of private property rights and the concept of personal responsibility.

The most intimate property right one possesses is of one’s own body (let pro-choice Democrats refute that one). In short, if an individual boater feels the need to wear a personal flotation device while on the water, he will do so whether the state mandates it or not. A cursory glance around the Chesapeake Bay on a summer weekend afternoon validates this argument. Maryland waters have been filled for years with hobbyists who fish in small boats and wear lifevests for their own well-being.

However, given that current state law requires only small children on boats no more than 21 feet long to wear PFDs at all times, it seems there’s more at play here than a superfluous concern for our safety. According to Boating Statistics 2004, published by the U.S. Coast Guard in September 2005, Maryland in 2004 had 206,681 registered motorboats and only 16 boating fatalities. Boating certainly can be dangerous, but these numbers indicate it is undeniably safe if people are smart and observe existing laws.

In this light, one could be forgiven for wondering if this bill is just another ploy by Maryland legislators to stuff state coffers at the expense of our liberties, like red light cameras and night vision goggles once issued to Maryland troopers to enforce seat-belt laws (a project wisely discontinued by Gov. Bob Ehrlich last year). Indeed, tucked away at the end of HB 140 is a section estimating state revenues are expected to increase by as much as $700,000 by fiscal 2007 as a result of this new law, which would allow the state to fine first-time offenders up to $500 and slap them with a misdemeanor. A subsequent offense could carry a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment up to a year, or both. All for conduct that is perfectly legal today.

Alas, it is becoming ever more apparent our bureaucrats increasingly view taxpayers as little more than revenue generators serfs to be exploited and fined under bizarre regulations, through which lawmakers can finance pet projects.

Yet how odd so few are incensed by such behavior. How strange so many of us seem oblivious that if enough freedom-stomping legislation is passed, eventually we’ll all be guilty of some crime or another, often simply manufactured out of whole cloth by our politicians.

Whatever Maryland’s motives, perhaps the most offensive aspect of such nanny-statism is the undeniable fact that as government further purports to assume for its citizens the responsibilities individuals should retain for themselves, dependence upon it only increases.

Extrapolated to its logical conclusion, such abuse of government authority will slowly encourage and compel citizens to surrender their liberties to the point where we effectively become wards of the state.


A freelance writer living in Maryland.

He welcomes comments at [email protected]

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