Two southern Minnesota lawmakers say a new state law requiring bleachers to be modified so children won’t fall from them is too much of a financial burden on school districts and cities.
Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, and Rep. Fran Bradley, R-Rochester, say amendments they are proposing at the Legislature will improve bleacher safety while reducing the cost to local taxpayers.
“It’s another case of an unfunded mandate made by the state,” Dorman said of the law. “We tell you to make the corrections without footing the bill, and then we complain that it’s not being done. That’s not right.”
Passed last year, the law requires bleachers to have 30-inch side rails and no gaps larger than 4 inches. It was created in response to children being injured or killed after slipping through gaps in bleachers. Six-year-old Toby Lee of Mound died after falling 8 to 10 feet from the Hutchinson Civic Arena bleachers Jan. 3, 1999.
The cost of replacing the noncompliant bleachers by the deadline of Jan. 1, 2001, is estimated at $100 million statewide.
Dorman’s amendment would exempt bleachers less than 5 feet high from the alterations. Bradley’s plan would exempt bleachers that meet the old standard of 9-inch gaps, and it would delay the compliance deadline to Aug. 1, 2001.
The lawmakers have been sharply criticized for their proposals.
“People have come up to me and told me I must not believe in the safety of our children because of my support for these common sense amendments,” Dorman said. “I am certainly in favor of protecting the safety of children, I just don’t believe in making these municipalities tear down all of the bleachers in their play parks because they don’t meet the standard.”
In Albert Lea, bleachers at a new high school will meet the new standard while bleachers in the old high school will be torn down after students move to the new school. Other bleachers are being modified.
Superintendent David Prescott said the estimated cost is nearly $85,000. “If we’d had our druthers, we’d use that money for other purposes to provide for the safety of our students,” Prescott said.