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House approves beacon bill

Mountaineers oppose bill, which would require climbers to carry locators

Oregon House representatives have approved a bill introduced by Rep. John Lim, R-Gresham, requiring some Mount Hood climbers to carry locator devices.

State senators and Gov. Ted Kulongoski must still approve the 'Beacon Bill,' more formally known as House Bill 2509. If approved, it would apply to climbers who go above the mountain's 10,000-foot-level between November and March, requiring them to carry a device that allows searchers to pinpoint the climber's location.

The bill was prompted by a tragedy last December that left three men dead on the state's highest peak. Three experienced climbers who were not carrying locator devices died on the 11,239-foot mountain after getting caught in a storm. Rescuers recovered the body of one climber. The other two have yet to be located.

Timing of the Beacon Bill also happened to coincide with the February rescue of three climbers stranded on Mount Hood. The climbers had an electronic locator, as well as a dog that kept them warm.

The Beacon Bill requires a person or group climbing Mount Hood to carry a two-way communication device, such as a cellular phone, and either a global positioning system receiver, personal locator beacon transmitter, a mountain locator unit or other comparable device.

Representatives on Wednesday, March 28, approved the bill in a 33-22 vote. Democrats cast most of the yes votes, 21 compared to 12 from Republicans. Of the no votes, Republicans cast 14 with eight from Democrats.

The mountaineering community opposed the bill, saying many experienced climbers already carry such equipment and that the locators could give climbers a false sense of security. Critics also cited concerns about government interference that would tether climbers to the trappings of modern life that they're trying to get away from.

Lim, and others who support the bill, liken it to other life-saving legislation that now requires motorists to wear seat belts, boaters to wear life jackets and motorcycle riders to wear helmets.

'Mountain climbers, they know it is risky behavior,' Lim said. 'They don't want the government to take that excitement away.'

Lim proposed the legislation take effect in July 2010 to give mountaineering stores time to buy enough devices to equip the 10,000 people who climb Mount Hood each year. However, House committee members changed it to take effect Jan. 1, 2008.

The bill has no proverbial teeth. Lim didn't want the threat of possible punishment to prevent climbers from calling for help.

Two other pieces of legislation sponsored by Lim in the wake of a separate winter tragedy have been put on hold for fear of duplicating similar efforts being made the governor.

Lim had proposed making it a criminal misdemeanor to tamper with a sign or gate intended to close a road to the public. He also sponsored a bill that would require the Oregon Emergency Management Office to become the central command and oversee search and rescue efforts that span three or more counties.

The proposed pieces of legislation came after a California family on a Thanksgiving trip became stranded on a snowy logging road. A gate that should have closed the road for the winter was left open.

After more than a week in the car, James Kim, 35, left his wife and two daughters, ages 4 and 7 months, to find help.

Within days of him leaving, searchers found his family alive. Two days later, they found Kim's body in a steep canyon. He died of exposure and hypothermia.