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Lawmakers: Stage rules need more time

Measures stopgap after Fair collapse

– 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, after 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.”

Joe Wainscott, Homeland Security executive director, 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.