JEFFERSON CITY - A new review committee will investigate the 2011 merger of the state's Water Patrol Division and State Highway Patrol.
The investigation follows a recent report from the Kansas City Star about the drowning of a 20-year-old at the Lake of the Ozarks in May. Brandon Ellingson drowned after he was arrested by a Water Patrol officer for intoxicated boating and then fell off the patrol boat.
The patrol officer put Ellingson in the wrong type of life preserver after he handcuffed him, according to the Star. The officer had just recently begun patrolling the water.
Now, eight members of the House will investigate the merger of the water and highway patrols, looking specifically at officer training and safety.
Lawmakers approved the merger in 2010 and the two divsions officially merged in 2011. At the time, Gov. Jay Nixon said the merger would cut costs and increase effectiveness.
Rep. Don Phillips, R-Kimberling City, will vice-chair the committee, adding his experience as an ex-state trooper. Phillips said he thinks the merge is a safety concern.
"It seems as though the opinion of most people is that the emphasis is on the highway safety and not on the water safety and I think that's evidenced of the fact that we're seeing more drownings than we've seen in quite some time," Phillips said.
Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton, will serve as chair of the committee. She said the committee will review practices before and during the merge, and will look at many options for a course of action.
"I think we have a really great committee to examine this issue and then come away with the best recommendation for securing the safety of folks when they're on the water," Franklin said.
Franklin and Phillips said they want to find the best solution to keep the public safe.
The committee will have its first public hearing in the coming weeks in the state Capitol. Franklin said they plan to hold future hearings around the state to hear as many opinions as possible.
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