AUGUSTA — A bill meant to regulate farm amusement rides, like the haunted hayride that ended in the death of an Oakland teenager last October, has been turned into a task force that will study the issue of farm amusement ride safety in Maine.

On Monday, the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted to give Maine State Police and the Office of the Maine State Fire Marshal until February 2016 to study the issue of farm amusement rides.

The task force, which will include representatives from the Maine Farm Bureau and the state’s campground association, is expected to offer recommendations for ensuring the safety of those who pay to take a ride at a farm.

The bill is a watered-down version of a bill, LD 1057, offered by Rep. Bob Nutting, R-Oakland, that was in response to the death of Cassidy Charette.

Charette, 17, died after a trailer with at least two dozen people on it went off the trail and into trees at Harvest Hill Farms’ Gauntlet Haunted Hayride in Mechanic Falls. Another 22 people were injured in the rollover in October 2014.

Nutting’s bill prior to the amendment would have required farm amusement operators to obtain a permit and safety inspection prior to operating a hayride.  

Another bill before the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, LD 41, offered by Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, requires hayride operators to post an affidavit showing they have liability insurance that covers any injury that could result from the hayride. Saviello’s bill is scheduled for a work session Thursday, which may result in a similar decision by that committee.

But Monday, Rep. Lori Fowle, D-Vassalboro, the House chairwoman of the committee, said lawmakers decided the issue of regulating farm amusement rides was more complicated than it appears on the surface and that it deserved careful consideration and detailed information.

“I think we try hard not to make a law that deals with one case but deals with a situation where there is a problem,” Fowle said. “I think you may have farmers that are using wagons and tractors or not tractors — there is a process going on that can cause harm and public safety issues.”

She said Charette’s death had alerted lawmakers and others to the potential for additional mishaps on Maine farms as more and more farms look toward so-called “agritainment or agritourism” as a means to bolster traditional farm revenues.

According to state Fire Marshal Joe Thomas, an initial review by his agency determined there were as many as 100 different hayride-type events taking place in Maine each year.

The task force that Thomas would be a member of will examine what rules might be put in place and which state or local agency should be responsible for regulating farm amusement rides.

Thomas suggested a permitting and inspection system for those events would be the only way to truly regulate hayrides but also said his agency did not have the expertise to be in charge of that.

Nutting said Monday afternoon that he was satisfied with the committee’s direction on his bill as it keeps the issue before the Legislature. He said the issue was more complex than simply requiring hayride vehicle or course inspections and that taking the time to fully understand the extent of any problems and possible solutions for Maine made sense to him.

Nutting said only one other state in the U.S. has any kind of regulation for hayrides, and that’s Rhode Island, which has a permit system for hayrides but it doesn’t inspect hayride vehicles.

“So there’s not an easy solution,” Nutting said. “Because it’s not just about inspection of vehicles because you can inspect a vehicle today and tomorrow you can use it inappropriately.”

Nutting also said lawmakers are being careful not to “hurt the farmers” but at the same time want to find a way to ensure public safety.

“This gives all the interested parties a chance to work on it between now and next winter and during which time we will have another hayride season,” Nutting said.

He said the mishap that claimed Charette’s life had made farmers, the public and particularly the insurance industry, “keenly aware that they should be concerned about what can happen with some of these events.”

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