By SUMMER BALLENTINE , Associated Press
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill on Tuesday announced she wants to enshrine into law federal recommendations to improve duck boat safety such as getting rid of canopies that can trap passengers if the vehicles sink, as happened on a Missouri lake last week when a boat capsized.
McCaskill said during a speech on the Senate floor that she is drafting legislation following the accident on Table Rock Lake near Branson, which killed 17 people.
She’s working off of National Transportation Safety Board recommendations spurred by another deadly duck boat accident in Arkansas in 1999. Federal regulators then noted the amphibious vehicles have trouble staying afloat during flooding and overhead canopies can trap passengers if the vehicles sink — two areas of concern McCaskill also pointed out.
Despite the board’s past recommendations for improvement, McCaskill said not much been done to address safety concerns.
“We’ve had 40 deaths associated with the duck boats since 1999,” she said. “Yet there has been little done to address the inherent dangers of these amphibious vehicles.”
A U.S. Coast Guard and NTSB investigation of the latest Missouri accident is ongoing, but McCaskill said she doesn’t want to wait to address “some of these glaring issues in terms of passenger safety.” She said that investigation could take a year or longer.
It’s unclear how much progress McCaskill will be able to make is passing such legislation with the upcoming midterm elections a few months away. McCaskill is among those up for re-election.
Fellow Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican, expressed some caution in taking action before the federal investigation is wrapped up. He said investigators will determine whether the latest accident was avoidable and whether recommendations from the Arkansas case were followed by the Coast Guard and the boat operator, or whether there was an equipment failure or other problem.
“Any legislative response, including interim steps that may be needed, should be based on the facts that come out of that investigation,” Blunt said in a statement. “As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has oversight of both agencies, I will continue closely monitoring the investigation and making sure we get as much information as we can as quickly as possible.”
A spokesman for Missouri Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is trying to unseat McCaskill, did not immediately comment on whether he supports McCaskill’s proposal.
Blunt also on Tuesday said he expects the Senate to confirm two nominees to the NTSB in the wake of the duck boat’s sinking.
Votes to approve Republican Bruce Landsberg and Democrat Jennifer Homendy would bring the five-member panel to full strength for the first time in several years. President Donald Trump named Landsberg and Homendy to the NTSB months ago, but the nominations have stalled amid a partisan dispute.
Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.