When Don Burns passed away in early March, the industry lost one its finest and most successful government advocates. It was wonderful reading all of the sentiments about Don; he was truly one of our very best. In the aftermath of his passing, there was, however, something missing. Not much at all was said about his specific legislative accomplishments.
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As a longtime member of the pool and spa industry in California, I became intimately familiar with Don’s work and that of SPEC, the lobbying organization he piloted for so many long years. He worked tirelessly in what was and remains an incredibly challenging state government environment. Chronicling his legislative and regulatory battles could fill volumes.
I’d like to add to the record by pointing out two groundbreaking pieces of legislation he shepherded through the California state capitol into law.
The first was California SB 873 (1997), which was passed into law and effectively put an end to suction entrapment accidents in wading pools. Without putting too fine a point on it, these accidents were unspeakably horrific. Known as “trans-anal evisceration” suction entrapment, the accidents either killed or gravely injured the victims, which were always small children. I had been working on the problem for years and knew installing dual main drains could easily prevent it, but the accidents kept happening. In 1995, I became involved in the litigation of the 1993 Lakey evisceration in North Carolina. When I became aware of the details, I called Don and told him I was furious, because this was easily preventable. He invited me to Sacramento and we went to work on the bill, which would retroactively require dual main drains on all wading pools. After a lengthy and contentious battle, it was passed into law. To my knowledge, there has not been an evisceration accident in a wading pool in California since.
Don also worked on California SB 1726 (2002), a bill that was passed into law and required dual main drains in all new swimming pools and spas to reduce or eliminate the hazard of suction entrapment/evisceration. I worked with Don again, and although it was not retroactive, every new swimming pool and spa was from then on required to have dual main drains. That was six years before the incident that would eventually lead to passage of the Virginia Graeme Baker legislation on a national level. Don’s legislation was in many respects the precursor to and foundation for the VGB act.
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In thinking about Don and the work he did, it occurs to me that it would be very difficult to adequately describe the depth and breadth of his long-term influence on the industry. There is no question in my mind that that there are many people living and breathing today that wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the dedicated work of this exemplary gentleman.