A bill co-sponsored by Republican state Rep. Jim Mooney looks to tackle one of the leading causes of death among children ages 1-4 in Florida — drowning.
Filed Feb. 18, legislation would ask parents of children entering a private or public school to confirm their child had swimming lessons when entering the school system, notably when they start kindergarten. It would take effect during the 2022-23 school year, if approved in the House and Senate and signed by the governor.
Legislation doesn’t require parents to say whether their children have gone through swimming courses, but it would allow school authorities to identify students who may not know how to swim. The bill would also help parents with free or low-cost programs to ensure their child has an opportunity to learn, if there is a desire.
Per the Florida Department of Children and Families, 68 fatalities among children in 2020 resulted from drowning. That’s slightly up from 65 drowning fatalities among children in 2019.
Of the drowning deaths reported last year, 81% were among children 3 and under. None were reported in Monroe County last year, while five were reported in Miami-Dade County.
“This is nonpartisan that should be approved 100%,” Mooney said. “The whole idea of this bill is when your child enters kindergarten, does your child know how to swim. The idea is to collect the data so a public-private partnership can be formed to help these kids know how to swim.”
Joining Mooney in co-sponsoring the legislation is Democratic state Rep. Dan Daley of Coral Springs. The legislation has a Senate sponsor in state Sen. Laurie Berman, a Democrat from Boynton Beach.
The bill is named after Edna Mae “Em” McGovern, of Coral Springs, who lost her life in August 2009 from drowning. The family had spent the day out by the pool with her other kids, aged 10 and 3 at the time.
Following pool time, mother Cassie McGovern had put the young girl in a chair in a family room as she put away groceries and talked to her husband in another room. She wasn’t gone long, but it was enough for the toddler to slip outside of her family’s home and to the pool area without her parents noticing.
Having noticed Edna was gone, Cassie searched and found her in the pool. Em died days later on Aug. 11.
“The benefits of healthy, happy water activities can lead to a lifelong love and joy of the water,” Berman said. “Ensuring children learn water safety and swimming at an early age will lock in confidence in these children so they will have a love, and not fear, of water and water-related activities.”
Legislation in the House awaits consideration among committees. The bill in the Senate currently sits in the Education committee, the Children, Families, and Elder Affairs committee and the Rules committee.