A bill proposed by state Sen. Betty Little is attempting to address what are perceived as shortcomings in the current laws overseeing licensed guides.
The bill (S6663-2013) amends the definition of a guide, prohibits the act of guiding while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and increases fines against guides for violations. Guides are licensed through the state Department of Environmental Conservation and regulated by the state's environmental conservation law. There are currently more than 2,100 licensed guides statewide.
"The purpose of the bill is really to provide some guidelines and penalties to ensure that when a person does hire a guide they are getting a guide that is going to do the best," Little told the Enterprise. "The majority of guides and outfitters are very, very good at their jobs, but now and then you have a serious infraction or violation and something happens, so we want to ensure the safety of the people that are hiring guides."
The bill was referred to the environmental conservation committee in February and remains without a sponsor in the Assembly.
Many of the proposed changes in the bill are a result of a deadly accident that occurred on the Indian River in the town of Indian Lake on Sept. 27, 2012. That day Tamara Blake drowned on a guided rafting trip set up by the North Creek-based Hudson River Rafting Company owned by Patrick Cunningham. Her guide, 37-year-old Rory Fay, was later found to be intoxicated and pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to one year in jail.
Earlier that spring, Cunningham was charged with reckless endangerment after abandoning a raft full of clients, leaving them to fend for themselves. The owner was able to maintain his guiding license amid the charges.
The current environmental conservation law does not address guiding while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and limits the reasons for revoking a guide's license to violations of the environmental conservation law or providing false information to the Department, according to a description of the bill. These violations are only punishable by the revocation of a guide's license for one year.
The proposed bill has some more serious penalties. Guides who work without a license or outfitters who provide guides without licenses or knowingly provide intoxicated guides would face misdemeanor charges and the possibility of a fine up to $5,000 or up to 90 days in jail, or both. A second violation of any of these rules could bring charges of up to $10,000, a year in jail or both.
The fines have drawn concern from some in the guiding community.
"Some guides have said that the penalties are a little high ... and then others have said they support it. So we're still working on it," Little said.
Other proposed changes include the creation of the term "outfitter," a new definition for the term guide, a requirement that guides have written contracts with their clients that they must keep for two years. Also, guides who don't wear their guide's license in plain sight or fail to have written contracts could also be fined up to $500.
The law also proposes that the state could stop an outfitter from providing guides if one of its guides is convicted of reckless endangerment or manslaughter.
Submitting false documentation or violating the penal law while guiding could also lead to a guide's license being suspended for up to two years or revoked.
Scott Locorini is the owner of Adirondack Exposure near Old Forge and president of the New York State Outdoor Guides Association. He said the guide's organization isn't ready to comment publicly on the legislation. The group is scheduled to meet and discuss the changes later this month. They also plan to meet with Little and the Hudson River Professional Outfitters Association.
"There are some issues the association is concerned with, and there are a fair amount of issues that we don't have any problem with at all, like people shouldn't be able to guide while they're drunk," he said. "I think everybody kind of agrees with that."
Bob Rafferty, a past president of the Hudson River Professional Outfitters Association and owner of the Adirondac Rafting Company in Indian Lake, did not want to comment on specifics of the legislation until his group had met with Little, who he said appeared to be receptive to guides' suggested changes.
"I think the intentions are all good, but perhaps it wasn't thought out how it would be applicable to different types of guiding situations," he said. "I think if anything, we need to break it down so it works for all parties, or perhaps separate different types of guiding entities.
"We're all striving for the same thing. We want good, safe, quality trips, but a bill like that affects a fishing business on Lake Ontario, or a hunting business in Olean, New York, so it needs to be well thought out."