Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Beach Safety Bill Reported Favorably by Committee; Bill Honors Memory of Missing 2-year-old Caleigh Harrison

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture took favorable action today on legislation filed by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) to promote safety at the state’s public beaches through a uniform, color-coded warning and safety flag program.

Senate Bill 409, An Act Creating Uniform Beach Warnings, was released from committee with a favorable report this morning following a public hearing that included testimony from Senator Tarr, Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D-Gloucester) and the family of 2-year-old Caleigh Harrison, who went missing on April 19, 2012 while playing with her mother and sister at Rockport’s Long Beach.

“Today the committee has taken a decisive step toward making our beaches safer and public safety stronger,” said Senator Tarr.  “The compelling story told by Caleigh’s family moved legislators to action, and is making the difference in getting the bill passed.”

“I am extremely proud of the Harrison family,” added Representative Ferrante.  “They are an inspiration for turning their tragedy into positive advocacy for public safety and preventing future tragedies.  As the former vice chair and current member of the Environment Committee, I am pleased that we as a committee were able to vote this out of committee favorably.”

The effort to pass Senate Bill 409 was initiated by Caleigh’s uncle, David Harrison, who was on a business trip to Panama earlier this year when he learned about the country’s color-coded flag system which is used to warn the public about the dangers of tides and riptides.  Alabama, Florida, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Texas and several other states utilize a similar program, and the Harrison family is seeking to implement the same safety measures in Massachusetts.

“We’re extremely thankful and delighted that the bill moved as fast as it did,” said David Harrison.  “We didn’t expect that, and we’re very grateful.  We’re also thankful for the efforts of Senator Tarr and Representative Ferrante.  This is one big step toward something positive that we’re trying to accomplish, and we want to thank the committee for pushing the bill through.  We’re definitely not the only family to lose a loved one like this, and we won’t be the last, but we hope to reduce those numbers by passing this bill.  It’s a great way to honor Caleigh.”

“I want to thank Senator Tarr and Caleigh’s family for bringing this important issue to our attention,” said Senator Marc R. Pacheco (D-Taunton), Senate Chairman to the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.  “Massachusetts should certainly employ this strategy; if it prevents another future tragedy, it will be well worth it.”

“I am pleased to work with Senator Pacheco and the Committee members to advance this common sense piece of legislation,” added Representative Anne Gobi (D-Spencer), House Chairman to the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.  “I know not every tragedy can be prevented but it is important to put measures in place that can raise awareness and increase public safety and this bill will do that.”

The bill now heads to the Senate for further action.