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The Daily Chronicle joined Rep. Peter Abbarno on the Willapa Hills Trail to discuss water safety, cold-water shock drownings, and a new law he passed called Zack’s Law.

House Bill 1004, also known as “Zack’s Law,” is named in honor of 18-year-old Zachary Lee Rager, an experienced swimmer who fell victim to cold-water shock and drowned in the Chehalis River on March 23, 2021.

“Zack’s Law will help educate the public about the dangers posed by cold water shock and save lives,” said Abbarno, R-Centralia. “I am thankful to Zack’s family and friends for advocating and communicating the importance of this policy.”

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the human body responds to cold-water immersion with an increased heartbeat and blood pressure, faster breathing, uncontrolled gasping, and sometimes uncontrolled movement. Lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes, the cold-shock response can be deadly by itself. Victims may panic, take on water in that first uncontrolled gasp, and as many as 20% die in the first two minutes.

Zack’s Law would require state government agencies and local governments to erect signs warning of drowning hazards when they are already replacing signs or erecting signs near dangerous water hazards. Under the 20th District lawmaker’s proposal, signs would be erected at the same time upgrades are made to bridges and other water-adjacent infrastructure, so there would be no significant costs to taxpayers. The bill would also create a mechanism for the public to donate funds to the state for the specific purpose of erecting signs in locations known to attract people to what could be hazardous waterways. This is Abbarno’s second attempt to get Zack’s Law through the Legislature.

In 2022, Abbarno introduced an identical measure: House Bill 1595. “This was a team effort with fellow 20th District legislators Senator Braun and Representative Orcutt,” added Abbarno. “Everyone came together and worked on this policy, along with Zack’s family. The memory of Zack is now memorialized in state law The people of Washington will remember Zack and his story will ultimately prevent future tragedies.”

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