House unanimously passes ‘Zack’s Law,’ Rep. Peter Abbarno’s effort to prevent cold-water shock drownings

The Washington State House of Representatives today unanimously passed Rep. Peter Abbarno's effort to prevent cold water shock drownings.

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.

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 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.

“I am thrilled we were able to get Zack's Law through the House this year, with unanimous support, and over to the Senate,” said Abbarno, R-Centralia. “Few people are aware of the very real dangers posed by diving or jumping into cold water, even on a warm, sunny day in the spring or fall in the Pacific Northwest. By educating, informing, and warning people about the risk of diving or jumping into cold water, I believe we can save lives.”

This is Abbarno's second attempt to get Zack's Law through the Legislature. In 2021, he introduced an identical measure: House Bill 1595.

The bill now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, is the prime sponsor of the Senate companion bill: Senate Bill 5673


Washington State House Republican Communications