‘Ellie’s Law’ to establish stricter airboating regulations after UM student’s death

It has been eight months since University of Miami graduate Elizabeth Goldenberg died in an airboat accident. She was taking a tour of the Everglades with her parents and sister, Dana, who were in Miami to celebrate Goldenberg’s graduation from the BFA musical theater program.

Now, there is a bill in her honor waiting to become law. The legislation, which would push for tighter regulations on airboating, is known in legal jargon as House Bill 1211 or Senate Bill 1612, but it also has another name: “Ellie’s Law.”

The bill is just two pages long and was filed by Joseph Abruzzo and Kevin Rader, both Democrat senators. Abruzzo had attended Goldenberg’s graduation ceremony to watch his cousin flip the tassel and penned the legislation when he found out what happened to his cousin’s classmate.

The bill would amend existing Florida statutes and require commercial operators carrying passengers on board an airboat to have a photo ID and proof of successful completion of airboat operator training and a boating safety course. Airboat operators would also need a certificate affirming they completed CPR and first-aid training.

A violation of the new regulations would be considered a noncriminal infraction with a civil penalty of up to $500. These rules would take effect Dec. 31.

Florida’s popular airboating industry has been largely unregulated up to this point and has seen a number of accidents and deaths as a result, according to a December 2017 investigation by the Miami New Times. There is no minimum age for operating an airboat, and there are no speed limits in the marshes. The drivers rely on basic boating safety and instinct.

Senate Bill 1612 received unanimous approval in the Senate’s Environmental Preservation and Conservation Commission on Jan. 22. The identical House Bill was referred to the Careers and Competition subcommittee, the Natural Resources and Public Lands subcommittee and the Commerce Committee, where it is awaiting a vote.

Goldenberg’s parents, David and Renee, established a scholarship in their daughter’s name in the UM theater department, and the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre dedicated its 2017-2018 season to her.