Florida TaxWatch gets behind bill promoting swimming education for kids

The bipartisan legislation seeks to put parents in touch with free or low-cost lessons when needed.

Florida TaxWatch is backing bipartisan legislation to promote awareness and resources for parents to make sure their children know how to swim.

Democratic Rep. Dan Daley and Republican Rep. Jim Mooney are joining for the House version of the bill (HB 1119). Democratic Sen. Lori Berman is carrying the Senate version (SB 358), with Democratic Sen. Lauren Book serving as a prime co-sponsor.

“The legislation asks parents of children entering any public or private school system — especially at the kindergarten level — to confirm that their child has had age-appropriate swimming lessons,” Berman explained Monday on a Zoom conference promoting the legislation.

“It’s not a mandate, but it allows schools to identify students who may not know how to swim and will help put these parents, where needed, in touch with free or low-cost programs to ensure their child has an opportunity to learn.”

The House version simply requires schools to ask whether an incoming student has completed a water safety course. If so, school officials may ask for a certificate. If a child has not completed such a course, the school is required to offer information to parents providing at least five free or low-cost swimming lessons available to families in their respective region.

The Senate version requires incoming students to submit a certification showing they’ve completed a water safety course, though parents can write a request to be exempt from that requirement.

“We need to make sure that every child in this state can swim, and this is a great way to do it that’s not a burden on government but is a benefit to the people of Florida,” Florida TaxWatch Chairman George LeMieux said during Monday’s call.

Added Rep. Daley, “Drowning is one thing that is, I would say, 99%, if not 100%, preventable. It’s about education, and that’s exactly what this bill gets at.”

The legislation is titled the “Edna Mae McGovern Act” after a young Coral Springs girl who drowned just shy of her second birthday. Her mother, Casey McGovern, has become an advocate for the issue.

Several of the lawmakers backing the bill spoke to the significance of the legislation Monday.

“This may be the most important bill on the entire floor this year. Honestly, that’s how I feel,” Mooney said.

“We’ve got to do a better job of teaching our children how to swim. It is inexcusable that children are drowning in our state.”

Added Berman, “My children are older now. But I remember when they were young, and I remember how nervous I was about them and how important it was that I made sure that they knew how to swim at an early age.”

Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro emphasized the bipartisan nature of the legislation in his remarks supporting the bill.

“This is truly all about the safety and well-being of Florida’s most precious resource: our children,” Calabro said. “We know how critically important it is. They are our present and our future, and it’s really important to protect their lives to show them that we care.”

In addition to Monday’s joint Zoom conference, Florida TaxWatch also released research on the number of children who have drowned in the state in recent years. While drowning among kids ages 0-3 has decreased over the past decade, drownings among children ages 3-5 have increased.

Bill Kent of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, a vocal proponent of swimming education, added his support for the proposal Monday.

“This is a long-overdue initiative,” Kent said. “Let’s make it happen in 2021.”

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected].


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