INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A commission drafting permanent rules intended to prevent a repeat of last year's deadly Indiana State Fair stage collapse would have two more years to implement those regulations under a proposal endorsed Tuesday by a state legislative panel.
Members of the Outdoor Stage Equipment Safety Committee said the additional time is needed to allow Indiana to fully assess its safety needs for temporary outdoor stage equipment at events that range in size from small local fairs to big festivals with multiple stages.
State lawmakers imposed emergency rules for temporary outdoor stage equipment this year in the wake of the August 2011 stage rigging collapse that killed seven people and injured 60 others at the State Fair before a scheduled concert by country duo Sugarland.
The law authorizing those emergency rules — Indiana's first for outdoor stage equipment — calls for them to expire on Jan. 1, 2014, once permanent rules are in place. But the draft legislation endorsed Tuesday by the legislative panel would give Indiana's Fire Prevention and Building Commission until 2016 to adopt the permanent rules.
State Sen. Jim Merritt, an Indianapolis Republican who co-chairs the legislative committee, said the commission needs more time to fine-tune permanent stage equipment rules that protect the public and also safeguard smaller events from possible burdensome regulations.
Merritt plans to sponsor a version of the bill in the legislative session that begins in January. He said Indiana, which is nearly 15 months removed from the 2011 State Fair tragedy, needs more time to assess the best models and practices for outdoor stage equipment.
"This is just to see what works and what might not be working," Merritt said. "We've only had one summer of festivals so I think what we're trying to do is have flexibility in that regard."
Homeland Security Executive Director Joe Wainscott said the state agency is working with events of all sizes to make sure equipment is in place that's safe for the public without creating unnecessary financial burdens on small local events.
"Our goal is not to be punitive, it's to be educational and to find solutions to keep people safe," he said.
Wainscott said the costs of inspecting outdoor stage equipment to make sure it is safe for public events range from $100 to $300, depending on the stage's size.
He said while those inspections do not represent "a terribly big cost," they have uncovered some shortcomings that event organizers should have already take care of under Indiana law that has for years regulated permanent stage structures.
The emergency rules for temporary outdoor stage equipment imposed this year were Indiana's first for equipment not permanently attached to outdoor stage structures.
Steve Patterson, the director of administration with the Indiana Association of Fairs, Festivals and Events, said the group that represents about 80 county fairs and about 10 local festivals is pleased with how the state and local inspections went during the summer and fall.
He said the association also approves of the lawmakers' desire to give the fire prevention and building commission more time to adopt permanent rules.
"We need to meet the safety needs without some hard and fast laws that could create some burdens," Patterson said.
Committee member state Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, said the state's fire prevention and building commission has done a good job getting the word to festivals and fair about what safety practices they need to have in place.
"They've rolled out safety procedures across the state effectively, which was the challenge," he said.