ROGERS PARK — State legislators are considering a new bill that would require life-saving equipment at all public access points along Lake Michigan following an outcry last summer over safety measures at Rogers Park beaches.
The proposal would mandate rescue equipment such as life rings at all public access points to to Lake Michigan, including beaches, piers and other drop-off points. The Illinois House’s Human Services Committee on Wednesday passed the bill, putting it one step closer to becoming state law.
The bill comes after Rogers Park neighbors last summer helped lead an effort to get the Chicago Park District to install life rings at beaches and other city lakefront areas.
Neighbors rallied to the cause after the drowning death of 19-year-old Miguel Cisneros Jr. who in August died after leaping into the lake from Pratt Pier.
In the wake of the tragedy, one neighbor installed his own life ring at the pier, but the Park District removed it. That lead to a public outcry over the district’s actions and a renewed effort to improve beach safety.
The Park District defended its decision to remove neighbor-installed life rings, saying that having such devices at beaches could put the district at legal risk if the equipment is damaged or otherwise cannot be used in the event of a drowning.
Neighbors, Cisneros’ family and local leaders kept pushing to get life rings installed and the Park District relented, installing safety devices at Pratt Pier and other beaches along the lakefront.
Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Rogers Park) helped lead the effort to install life rings at city beaches and is the main sponsor of the state legislative proposal. Requiring safety devices at public access points along the entirety of the state’s Lake Michigan shoreline can help prevent future drownings, she said.
“That this bill is needed is a tragedy, but it also represents what happens when a community comes together to solve a problem,” Cassidy said in a statement.
The Chicago Park District is in support of the measure, known as House Bill 4165, according to Cassidy’s office. Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) is also in support of the bill.
Lake Michigan saw at least 47 drownings last year, 19 of them taking place in Illinois, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. Over 430 people have drown in Lake Michigan since 2010, the most of any of the Great Lakes.
Rogers Park neighbors for years have complained about inadequate safety measures at the neighborhood’s beaches and piers. Halle Quezada, who helped lead the charge on the life ring installations, said other communities in the state should have the same lakefront protections that have just come to Chicago.
“This bill is a promise fulfilled to the community who demanded a chance at survival, who refused to accept preventable death as the price we pay to enjoy the lake, and who vowed to protect each other in the memory of those we never had a chance to save,” Quezada said in a statement.
Though the measure passed unanimously out of the Human Services Committee Wednesday, the bill will come back to the committee after receiving some minor tweaks, said Torrence Gardner, chief of staff to Cassidy.
After passing out of the committee again, the bill will need passage by the Illinois House of Representatives and Senate before and Gov. JB Pritzker’s signature.