The state Senate late Wednesday night gave final legislative approval to a bill opposed by the state’s environmental agency that would benefit a constituent of Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford.
The bill was among many legislative measures to win passage – all at once, in the final minutes before the scheduled midnight adjournment of the 2012 legislative session – as part of the Senate’s “consent calendar.”
It now goes to the desk of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The governor has not said whether he will sign, or veto, the measure — which was opposed by one of his executive branch agencies, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, but was pushed by an influential fellow Democrat, Stillman, co-chairwoman of the legislative education committee.
Stillman’s constituent, Capt. Dan Wood, operates a fishing and guide business using boats and motors he does not own – under a promotional demonstration arrangement with a boat manufacturer and marine engine maker – to take paying customers out on fishing excursions on Long Island Sound.
The “consent calendar” is generally reserved for non-controversial bills that are approved en masse. On the final night of the legislative session, it is sometimes used as a device for securing approval of special-interest measures before the midnight deadline without opening them for debate or criticism.
DEEP, which is in charge of boating regulations, had opposed the bill – which passed in the House on Friday by a 143-1 vote.
DEEP says that Wood is operating his fishing excursion business out of Niantic in a manner that deprives the state of thousands of dollars in tax revenue and fees – because he never owns or registers the craft, but in effect uses “dealer plates” of a local boat dealership.
The new bill would make it legal to operate a commercial fishing boat with a marine dealer registration, instead of owning the boat outright. Wood may be the only one affected by it; he said in an interview Monday he doesn’t know of anyone else who would be affected by it.
Stillman and other local legislators have supported the measure, saying it would preserve an unusual situation that benefits the local economy.
The DEEP does not agree.
“This bill, if passed, has the potential to remove about $500,000 in revenues from sales tax on such vessels …. Clearly he [Wood] is taking a broad interpretation of regulations and is doing so illegally,” Eleanor Mariani, state boating law administrator and director of DEEP’s boating division, wrote in an email Friday to the department’s legislative liaison, Robert LaFrance.
However, Wood said in a telephone interview on Monday that Mariani’s estimate is unrealistic, because it’s based on a scenario in which all 170 or so the holders of party-boat or charter-boats entered a promotional arrangement such as his, to demonstrate boats for a manufacturer.
So far, no one else has been able to find this unusual niche as a fishing guide and product demonstrator, Wood said.
He said he is a small businessman – he’s the only employee – with an enterprise that benefits the local economy and all he wants to do is continue with what he’s been doing since the 1990s.
The DEEP came after Wood in 2009 over the “demo” arrangement that had existed since 1995, and Wood went to Stillman for help. He said that Stillman was able to get a bill passed extending his ability to keep operating in the same manner until this coming May 27. Now, he said he needs the new bill to keep operating in the same way he has been.
Wood described his business this way in written testimony in favor of the bill, which was submitted for a public hearing in March: “I have been operating a light tackle fishing guide service since 1980 out of Niantic, Conn. [although he owned his own boat until starting the demo arrangement in 1995 with Atlantic Outboard, a boat and motor dealership in Westbrook]. I am the only full-time fishing guide in the state of Connecticut. … This is a very unique situation in that on a daily basis I demonstrate and promote the products of Hydra-Sports boars and Evinrude motors to potential clients of Atlantic Outboard,” a Hydra-Sports and Evinrude dealer. The arrangement “is advantageous to product sales, due to the high number of days the boat is on the water, bearing the signage prominently displayed on the boat for Atlantic Outboard, Hydra-Sports and Evinrude.”
Wood said the boat he will use this year – if the bill passes and he can continue to operate – is 30 feet long and is powered by twin, 300-horsepower Evinrude outboard motor prototypes.
He said that operating with the “demo” boats and engines does not deprive the state of any tax revenue – because at the end of each year, the boats and motors he uses are sold through dealer that gives him use of them during the fishing season; thus, Wood said, the state ultimately collects sales taxes and registration fees from the eventual buyers.
Wood said his situation is “unique,” and “I am a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, and they don’t want to accommodate me.” That’s why Wood, 51, said he needs the bill to enable him to stay in business. Wood said that by using the boats and motors on a “demo” basis to take people fishing from mid-May to Nov. 1, the Westbrook boat dealership sells several boats a year to people who’ve gone out fishing with him.