Who Should Pay For Poor Decisions?

A Coast Guard helicopter plucks a downed pilot from the sea USCG PHOTO

A Coast Guard helicopter plucks a downed pilot from the sea

There are eight states, including ours, where people who have to be rescued because they made poor hiking, boating or flying decisions can be charged the cost of police, fire department or Coast Guard help.

But nobody’s collecting. Some because they don’t have the resources to prove negligence. Most because they think enforcing those laws might result in people in trouble not calling for help. Then their friends go to help and create more trouble.

People hiking in rainy weather, boaters without radios or beacons, and pilots running out of fuel do cost us money. Simple rescues taking less than an hour cost about $1,000. But with ditched pilots or lost boaters? It can cost $11,000 an hour to fly a Coast Guard helicopter and $20,000 an hour to operate a C-130 search plane.

That cost notwithstanding, the four federal agencies involved in most rescues — Coast Guard, National Park Service, Department of Defense and Federal Emergency Management Agency — only bill someone if a hoax is involved.

That’s probably good public policy matched with education about better planning and telling people where you’re going and when you plan to return.

But it doesn’t make me any happier as a taxpayer when two small-plane pilots in one day run out of fuel on Hawaii flights and have to be saved at sea at a considerable hit to the Coast Guard budget.

Maybe we need a civilian volunteer board to review rescues and determine if there is unexcused negligence on the part of the person rescued — and a system to collect a fine. If unpaid, it could be made a tax penalty on state and federal income tax returns.

Alas, we’d need an appeal process, meaning additional bureaucracy and judicial proceedings.

OK, forget that one!

I like Sunshine Laws, as we all should. There’s been too much government done outside public purview over the years. Too much done for the benefit of well-to-do special interests and by lawmakers who talk themselves into believing all is for the best.

That said, Sunshine supporters can lead us overboard in the quest for openness.

Let’s say I’m a City Councilmember and we’re considering a zoning or a budget bill. One of my colleagues has reservations and is likely to vote no. I’d like to explore some compromises to win his yes vote.

I call him, we talk it over and he agrees to come over to my side if I’ll amend a couple of things. We agree to bring up those amendments next council session. But our phone call is illegal under our Sunshine Law. No private discussions of pending legislation allowed.

I find that patently unproductive.

What should happen is that in the public session I disclose that Joe Blow and I had a talk and compromised and here are the details.

That’s the sensible Sunshine I want. banyantreehouse@gmail.com