By FREDERIC J. FROMMER
WASHINGTON — Congress approved legislation Tuesday aimed at strengthening pool safety, six months after a 6-year-old girl had part of her intestinal tract torn out by a drain’s powerful suction at a wading pool.
The legislation would ban the manufacture, sale or distribution of drain covers that don’t meet anti-entrapment safety standards. The House approved it as part of an energy bill, following Senate passage last week, and President Bush plans to sign it.
On June 29, Abigail Taylor of Edina was injured when she sat over an open drain hole in a wading pool at the Minneapolis Golf Club. This week, she had a transplant operation for a small bowel, liver and pancreas at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, said the family attorney, Bob Bennett. She was listed in serious condition Tuesday.
It was thought that Abigail would need a feeding tube for the rest of her life, but the transplants could make that unnecessary, Bennett said.
The family was with Abigail and unavailable for comment, Bennett said. But he said they were happy with the bill’s passage and see it as an important first step.
The legislation, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, is named for another victim, the 7-year-old granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker. She drowned at a graduation party in 2002, when the suction from a drain pinned her.
The girl’s mother, Nancy Baker, said she was “ecstatic” about the bill’s passage.
“I’m also grateful and relieved,” said Baker, James Baker’s former daughter-in-law. “I’m honored for my daughter, and for the other kids whose injuries this led to.”
Baker recalled how one of her daughters told her, “’Graeme is at the bottom of the hot tub.’ I jumped in, and I couldn’t pull her up.” It took two men to finally pull her out.
She said that the bill’s passage will give meaning to her daughter’s death and the deaths of other children.
The House sponsor, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said that the tragedy of accidental drowning by children “is made even more painful by the knowledge that these types of accidents are preventable.
“We must implement national standards to replace the haphazard safety measures that allowed Graeme, and hundreds of children like her, to be lost in such nightmare scenarios.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., credited the Taylor family for helping to push the cause this year.
“I have absolutely no doubt that the family’s persistence made a difference,” she said.
Klobuchar won passage of an amendment that made the bill’s restrictions apply to existing public pools, not just new pools, and another one that requires public pools to include technology to shut off suction when a drain is blocked. The Senate bill was sponsored by Mark Pryor, D-Ark.
Klobuchar said she spoke with the girl’s father, Scott Taylor, nearly every week, including a conversation Tuesday.
“He is just so committed to making sure this doesn’t happen to a little girl again,” Klobuchar said. “He knew that this was a way to spur action.”
Sen. Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican and like Klobuchar a co-sponsor of the bill, said, “This bill will help ensure that instances like the tragic injuries to Abigail Taylor do not happen in the future by requiring safety measures that are long overdue.”
A children’s safety group and the trade group for pools, spas and hot tubs both supported the legislation.
“It is a monumental injury-prevention piece of legislation,” said Alan Korn, director of public policy for Safe Kids Worldwide. “They did a very good job of addressing a leading killer of kids.”
Bill Weber, president of the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals, said the legislation “will definitely promote a higher level of child safety around pools, spas and hot tubs in a responsible way.”