Minnesota would adopt stricter swimming pool safety standards that would require daily inspections and retrofitting public swimming and wading pools under a bill that cleared a Senate committee Wednesday.
The measure is a response to an incident last year in which an Edina girl suffered serious injuries from the suction of an uncovered drain at a country club wading pool. While the bill passed its first hearing on a voice vote Wednesday, some legislators expressed concern that the remedies could prove too expensive for cash-starved municipal pools, possibly forcing authorities to keep pools closed rather than adopt the new requirements.
Scott Taylor, whose daughter Abigail was severely injured when she sat over an open drain in a wading pool at the Minneapolis Golf Club, testified before the Senate Health, Housing and Family Security Committee.
Citing a dictionary definition of "accident," he said that what happened to Abigail "was not an accident. It was identifiable and foreseeable, especially to those in the pool industry." He said recent similar injuries all occurred in wading or kiddie pools.
Taylor said some drain covers have been redesigned to prevent these kinds of incidents, while others have not, and added that drain covers that do not address the hazards "have no place in any Minnesota pool or spa."
"Minnesota has a chance to be a leader in pools safety," he said. "Our children should be as safe in a pool as science and engineering can make them."
Abigail has undergone several surgeries and is hospitalized in Nebraska after having a multiple organ transplant in December.
The family is suing the pool manufacturer and the golf club in Hennepin County District Court. The suit alleges that Abigail, playing in the wading pool, fell and landed on the uncovered drainage outlet and became trapped on it when the sump created a vacuum. Her colon was forced into her rectum, and her exposed small intestine was pulled out through her lacerated rectum.
Citing the expected costs of Abigail's continued medical care, the Taylors' attorney, Robert Bennett, said Wednesday that concerns about the price of the bill should be kept in perspective. "If you want to equate money with safety we can do it that way," he testified.
The bill, sponsored in the Senate by Geoff Michel, R-Edina, would require all pools built after December of this year to contain two or more main drains, with covers meeting industry standards. Older wading pools would have to be retrofitted to meet new requirements by December. All other existing pools would have to meet the requirements by the end of 2009.
In addition, the proposal would require the state to license all public pools in the state, broadening its current authority. It would also require daily inspections of all public drain covers and grates.
Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, said the requirement for daily inspections could mean that city pools would be forced to close. Many Minneapolis park and recreation wading pools are unsupervised.
"Everyone can understand the anguish that the family is going through on this, but we have to step back and think about the broader implications," she said.
Congress has passed similar pool safety legislation last year.
Staff writer Doug Tice contributed to this report.