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Senator revises hay ride bill in face of rural opposition

February 21, 2001
By: Aritz Parra
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 350

JEFFERSON CITY - Rural opposition has sent back to the drawing board the sponsor of legislation that would protect hay riders from the tragedy that killed a St. Louis area teenager last year.

Sen. Betty Sims, R-St. Louis County, had proposed regulating commercial hay rides, but will amend her original bill so requirements would apply only to St. Louis County. Commercial operators would be required to get a state permit, undergo regular inspections and maintain a general liability insurance policy of at least $1 million.

Sims and her supporters said the limits were necessary to protect those who participate in the idyllic American tradition.

"I thought it was gonna be a blast but it turned to be a terrible tragedy," Jessica Imo, a 14-year-old Girl Scout, said of what began as a an October 1999 mother-daughter hay ride in Jefferson County, but ended with the death of 12-year-old Rachel McManemy after a wagon broke loose. Several other participants were injured.

"At one minute we were singing and laughing and right after that, I was laying next to her on the ground," Jessica testified during a recent Senate Transportation Committee hearing on the legislation proposed by Sims.

Some on the committee were not moved.

"We want to go slow, because every time the Senate regulates something, somebody gives up their freedom," said Sen. Morris Westfall, R-Halfway, chairman of the Transportation Committee.

"They didn't present enough evidence," Westfall said in an interview, adding that his committee had to consider other bills with "much more significance."

It was in response to such sentiment that Sims said she decided to change her bill.

"I had to make my choice," Sims said. "I'd love the bill to be passed in the whole state but I want it at least in my county."

Sims said members of the committee -- almost all of whom hail from rural areas -- voiced concern about that her proposal would eliminate hay rides, part of the Missouri heritage.

"As long as the hay ride is on a farm, in the fields and not in public roads, and as long as the farmer operator takes care of his own equipment it's safe. I don't think it's necessary to regulate it," said Marvis Meyer, a farmer from Dixon who has been offering hay rides for the last eight years.

Meyer owns a tractor and a trailer for his hayrides, which are offered as a service, built into the price, for families that go to his farm for a Christmas tree or a pumpkin. "It's just a little something different unique for a family. It's a good family thing," he said.

In rural counties "it is part of tradition, fun and games," said Sims, whose proposal would not affect hay rides operated by charities and other non-profit groups. "In St. Louis they are only for entertainment, it is not like in farms."