Should drunken motorboat operators continue to get away with a slap on the wrist if they get caught?

Or, should sharper teeth be added to the law to curb their enthusiasm for tipsy boating?

State Sen. Julie Morrison, a Deerfield Democrat, favors the latter approach.

A bill sponsored by Morrison, Senate Bill 1479, which passed the Illinois Senate April 25 54-0, certainly would give pause to motorboat operators statewide, if it becomes law.

Morrison’s Boating Under the Influence bill would authorize the Secretary of State’s Office to suspend a person’s driver’s license if that individual is found to be operating a motorboat while intoxicated.

A blood-alcohol content of 0.08 or higher would indicate intoxication, the same level as is applied to vehicular drivers.

Piloting a boat while under the influence of drugs or other intoxicating compounds would also put operators in jeopardy of having their motor vehicle driver’s licenses suspended.

This is good legislation that has the public’s best interest in mind. It’s of particular importance in Springfield and Peoria, where warmer weather will draw thousands of visitors to Lake Springfield  and the Illinois River this summer.

Springfield police arrested four people on Lake Springfield for operating a watercraft under the influence in 2012 and arrested three in 2011.

State conservation officers, who visit the lake infrequently, made one operating-under-the-influence arrest on Lake Springfield each year in 2011 and 2012.

Last year, the Chicago Tribune reported a rising trend of fatalities on Illinois waterways where boating and alcohol were involved. In 2011, nine people were killed in alcohol-related boating accidents.

The trend was partly blamed on reduced enforcement because the state’s budget crunch means fewer conservation police officers are on the job.

Some people may believe Morrison’s bill to toughen penalties for drunken motorboat piloting is a stretch. After all, the offense takes place on the water, not on roadways. Why suspend driving privileges on land for something that didn’t happen there?

We don’t buy that argument.

— GateHouse Media Illinois