August 13, 2011 is a day many Hoosiers remember and wish to forget. Our state and its Hoosiers suffered from an unthinkable tragedy that day when the Indiana State Fair stage collapsed on hundreds of attendees, killing seven and critically injuring more than 50.
A tragedy of this magnitude had never happened in Indiana, especially at a place like the state fair that is known for its welcoming, family-friendly atmosphere. But the unthinkable did happen and therefore, became an issue we as a legislature had to address this session.
As the Chairman of the Interim Advisory State Fair Commission, I was pleased to work with my colleagues to address the issue and do what was necessary. Senator Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) first proposed Senate Bill 273, which we have been working together to make certain all issues are addressed.
The legislation would create an Outdoor Stage Equipment Safety Committee to study the issues related to the regulation of outdoor stage equipment and recommend legislation to the General Assembly. They would primary focus on regulating the use of the equipment in Indiana with the intent of protecting the safety of attendees and performers.
The 12-member board would consist of four members from the Senate and four from the House—appointed by the Speaker and President Pro Tempore—and split evening amongst party lines. In addition, the State Fire Marshall, Executive Director of the Department of Homeland Security, Chairman of the Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission and the Commissioner of the Department of Labor.
Their first and main priority will be studying the reports prepared by Witt Associates and Thornton Tomasetti, Inc.—as ordered by Gov. Mitch Daniels—who have both been studying the cause and full effects of the stage collapses since August.
In addition to establishing the committee, the legislation also outlines that a Class 1 structure is a building or structure that is intended to be a or is occupied by the public. It also clarifies that “outdoor state equipment” includes any temporary or permanent towers, booms, ramps, platforms, overhead assemblies or other structures that are used in connection with an outdoor performance but are not attached or anchored.
Please keep in mind that what we are proposing in this legislation is not just for the state fair, it is for all outdoor performances areas in Indiana using outdoor stage equipment. However, we don’t have any plans to overreach onto some of our local fairs or cause an extra cost. Our main priority is safety for all and therefore, we are willing to work with locals without prohibiting anything.
It may also seem like this legislation isn’t doing much to address the main concern head on, but we are hesitance to do too much without the reports the committee will receive and review this summer. At that time, we will have a much better idea of what needs to be addressed and how. That was the main reason behind the committee being established and having their main responsibility being to report the General Assembly.
Senate Bill 273 is not the only piece of legislation making its way through the legislature dealing with the stage collapse that occurred last summer. House Bill 1376, as proposed and passed out of the House was authored by Chairman Jeff Espich (R-Uniondale) of Ways and Means—where I am a member—would double the amount of compensation available for state fair stage collapse victims by raising the aggregate liability limit the one-time payment from $5 million to $10 million.
We understand that no amount of money fixes this horrific situation that occurred last summer, but we need to do what is fair and reasonable for those involved and their families.
While House Bill 1376 is currently being considered by the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Senate Bill 273 is scheduled for a committee hearing in the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and Public Safety on Tuesday, Feb. 21. It will most likely receive a floor hearing in the House later this week or early next week.
I encourage you to stay involved in the conversation and stay up-to-date with legislation currently making its way through the process. You can visit www.in.gov/legislative or you can call my office at 1-822-382-9841.