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Indiana panel backs stage-rigging rules extension

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 An Indiana House committee on Tuesday backed a two-year extension of temporary outdoor stage rigging regulations developed following the deadly 2011 State Fair stage collapse.

The House public safety committee voted 11-0 to send to the full House the bill that would keep temporary rules approved last summer by the Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission in place through 2015.

Bill sponsor Rep. Robert Cherry, R-Greenfield, said the extension will give the safety commission time to hold public hearings and take other steps needed to adopt permanent rules.

The temporary rules — set to expire at the end of this year — require a buffer zone keeping people out of an area around temporary outdoor rigging structures that hold overhead lighting, sound and other equipment. That buffer zone extends 8 feet beyond the height of the rigging to protect fans in case of a collapse.

Cherry said he believed the two-year extension would give the safety commission an opportunity to consider other measures.

"I think we tried to address everything we needed in the emergency rules, but you never know and that's why we want to give them more time," Cherry said.

Legislators directed the commission last year to adopt the temporary rules in the wake of the August 2011 stage rigging collapse that killed seven people and injured nearly 60 others before a scheduled Sugarland concert at the state fairgrounds.

That collapse, which occurred when high winds toppled the rigging onto people below, exposed a loophole in Indiana law. Although state law had long required permanent stages to be inspected, temporary stage equipment erected on those stages was not regulated.

State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson told the House committee that the temporary rules had exceptions for small stages typically used for events and entertainment that allowed community festivals to continue without additional costs.

Cherry said he believe temporary regulations improved safety while overcoming doubts from organizers of smaller fairs and festivals.

"The fire marshal has worked well with them," Cheery said. "I've had zero complaints."

No one spoke against the bill during Tuesday's meeting.

The bill would add inflatable slides and bounce houses used at public events to those amusement rides that must pass safety inspections before being opened. The proposal also would give the state homeland security agency director the authority to set rules for emergency response plans for outdoor events where rigging equipment is used.

"It is more than the stage, it is how they handle the mass crowd, to get people out and make sure everyone's safe," Cherry said.

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