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Livingston Parish committee sends river safety ordinance to council following summer drownings, rescues

10 months 1 week 5 days ago Tuesday, September 28 2021 Sep 28, 2021 September 28, 2021 10:36 PM September 28, 2021 in News
Source: WBRZ

LIVINGSTON PARISH - An ordinance to enact safety guidelines for recreational businesses along Livingston Parish waterways was approved by the parish's ordinance committee Tuesday, after a summer that saw dozens of tubing rescues and two drownings along the Amite River.

The ordinance will be introduced to the parish council Thursday. A public hearing and vote are slated for Oct. 14.

The committee signed off on a draft document after weeks of discussing potential proposals. Earlier this month, committee members settled on three areas to focus on: safety videos, river signage, and life vests.

"I think that is a great start," Lisa Hilliard, whose husband, Keith, drowned while tubing on the Amite in June. "I'm pleased where we're going with this."

Discussion about the ordinance's exact language was at the center of Tuesday's meeting. The parish attorney will now review the document ahead of its introduction. Committee members debated adding an exemption section to the ordinance after concerns were raised about how some businesses along the water, like boat launches, would be impacted.

The biggest back and forth came over life vests. According to the drafted ordinance, 'businesses shall provide anyone entering the waterway with United States Coast Guard-approved life vest or flotation devices.'

District seven councilman Tracy Girlinghouse questioned if only certain ages should be required to wear life vests or if every river-goer would be required to use a flotation device.

Garry Talbert, who represents district two, said the council would not 'address individual rights' with the proposal.

"What we're saying is that in our parish, if you're gonna operate a business on the river, you have to provide everybody entering the river a flotation device or life jacket that's approved by the Coast Guard," Talbert said. "Our ordinance isn't addressing is it mandatory to wear it. It's just saying, you have to offer one to everybody."

Hilliard, who has praised the committee for its work on the issue, has said she wants to go further with additional safety measures and additional accountability.

"I personally think that Tiki Tubing is responsible for what happened to my husband," Hilliard said.

To accomplish that, she's looking to the state legislature. Already, she says, Sen. Cleo Fields, a Democrat from Baton Rouge, has expressed interest in working towards some of her goals.

Even with an ordinance nearing a vote, she acknowledges her work is far from over.

"I'm here for all of it," Hilliard said. "If it takes the rest of my life to get done, then it's worth fighting. It's worthwhile."

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