ROGERS PARK — Life rings will be required at all Lake Michigan access points in the state after Gov. JB Pritzker signed a new law that some Far North Side neighbors and officials have been seeking for years.
Pritzker on Thursday signed the Lake Michigan Rescue Equipment Act, which mandates that private and government-owned piers, beaches and drop-off points along Lake Michigan have life saving equipment such as life rings.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Rogers Park) after the drowning death of 19-year-old Miguel Cisneros last summer near Farwell Pier.
Neighbors installed life rings at the pier following Cisneros and at least two other drowning deaths at the location, but those rings were removed by the Chicago Park District. The incident led to a new wave of advocacy for life rings along the lakefront, helping to change park district policy and now state law.
The law also requires local governments to post warnings in high-risk lakefront areas and standardizes reporting requirements of drowning deaths to the Illinois Department of Public Health, according to the governors office.
“The stories of recent drownings on Lake Michigan are both tragic and preventable,” Pritzker said in a statement. “”This law will protect countless families from experiencing those same terrible losses and ensure a safer Lake Michigan for the thousands of Illinoisans who enjoy it every year.”
The Chicago Park District this summer installed 115 life rings along the lakefront ahead of the beach season that started Memorial Day, a district spokesperson said.
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Rogers Park neighbors have pushed the district for years to respond to drowning deaths in the neighborhood. The issue came to a head last year when Cisneros drowned after jumping off Farwell Pier when lifeguards were not on duty.
In response, a neighbor installed a life ring at the end of the pier and other neighbors installed “caution” signs.
Parks crews removed those and subsequent life rings left at the pier, saying the rings were not authorized by the district and that officials would explore adding their own. Neighbors and Cisneros’ family blasted the move and worked with Cassidy and Rep. Maria Hadden (49th) to get state and city officials to have lakefront safety guidelines changed.
“Today’s signing of this community-driven problem-solving initiative continues to illustrate his belief in empowering our communities to seek solutions that work,” Cassidy said in a statement. “I’m grateful all to the advocates, especially the Cisneros family, who turned their grief into action and brought us to this day.”
There were 56 drowning deaths in Lake Michigan in 2020, one of the deadliest years on record, according to the governor’s office.
“The passage of this law is an example of how democracy should work,” Hadden said in a statement. “Having this new standard for saving is the right thing to do to save lives.”
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