Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill has come under fire for proposing legislation to address the Duck Boat tragedy even as the investigation has just begun.
Her “safety plan” comes after she and Senator Roy Blunt addressed their Senate colleagues last week about the Duck Boat accident that claimed 17 lives.
Blunt, who wants to make sure proposed legislation covers every aspect of the tragedy, said he would be following a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation after one of the amphibious vehicles sunk when it took in water during a heavy storm on Table Rock Lake near Branson the previous week. Blunt said that the appropriate time to write legislation would be after all the facts are in and the investigators have done their job.
McCaskill, who is in a tight race and could lose to popular Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, has rushed to introduce a bill which some say capitalizes on the headlines and emotions as the primary election looms next week.
Her proposal hasn’t received universal support in the world of politics. State Representative Scott Fitzpatrick of Shell Knob stated his desire for “professionals” to finish their investigation before McCaskill, “who knows nothing about these sorts of things, flies into action with a bill.”
Her announcement comes after a whirlwind of activity surrounding the Table Rock Lake incident Monday in which two lawsuits emerged and a criminal investigation by the state attorney general’s office was made public.
McCaskill’s measure calls on the Coast Guard to formulate regulations requiring that Duck Boats have adequate buoyancy to stay afloat when they become flooded but gives boat companies two years to complete the changes.
Currently, the Coast Guard inspects the amphibious vehicles, but only to determine if they’re complying with rules such as supplying enough personal flotation devices. For its part, the NTSB has no power of enforcement and can only make recommendations.
Operators of the amphibious vehicles would have two years to comply with the new requirement once the bill became law–long after the November election decides if McCaskill will return to office.
Prior to purchasing the Branson Duck Boat operations in December, current owner Ripley Entertainment hired an inspector, Steven Paul, who warned the vehicles’ engines and the bilge pumps might fail in bad weather due to the improper placement of the boats’ exhaust system. Paul said that in rough conditions water could get into the exhaust system, and then into the motor, cutting it and the bilge pump it powers off.
McCaskill’s four-page Senate bill further would call for increased inspections until all Duck Boats were upgraded in two years.
In response to criticism, McCaskill admitted that an NTSB investigation will take time.
“It’ll take some time before we know exactly what went wrong in Branson, but there’s absolutely no reason to wait to take this commonsense step,” McCaskill said.
In a campaign-style event, McCaskill quickly traveled to Branson the day after the Duck Boat mishap and made the rounds of news media. During photo opps she claims she met with members of the Missouri Highway Patrol, the U.S. Coast Guard, National Transportation Safety Board, and those assisting in the search and rescue and family assistance.
McCaskill is considered the most vulnerable incumbent democrat senator in the nation as she faces likely challenger Josh Hawley should he win his primary race. Polling shows the contest practically tied and Hawley leading McCaskill.
McCaskill is also dealing with revelations by the Kansas City Star that her husband pocketed over $130 million in government subsidies for low-income housing that he built while his wife was voting on the federal budgets allowing for those expenditures.