The chief author of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act wants national funding for swim lessons, according to remarks at the eighth annual National Drowning Prevention Symposium.

“Last month, I joined my colleague, Congressman Albio Sires (D-N.J.), in introducing a Congressional resolution, expressing the importance of access to swimming lessons for all communities in the United States as an integral part of drowning prevention. The resolution encourages public and private funding to support current and future initiatives that provide all children with access to swimming education,” noted Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) — who sponsored the controversial law — in her keynote address to approximately 170 professionals at the Miami Beach, Fla., event.

She also asserted her position that pools not in compliance with the VGB Act should be closed, and shared her efforts to gain federal funding for education and enforcement of the legislation (later appropriated in the budget signed by the president on March 11, 2009). Hosted by the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, the conference saw record registration.

Reflecting on Wasserman Schultz’s remarks, NDPA President Johnny Johnson praised her commitment to safer water venues. ”The Congresswoman addressed VGB and went beyond that, sharing her desire to see swim lessons funded on a national front,” Johnson said. “That was music to my ears.”

He added that her audience included Nancy Baker, daughter-in-law of former Secretary of State James Baker III and mother of the late Virginia Graeme Baker, the 6-year-old entrapment victim for whom the legislation was named.

Themed “Lighting the Way to Safer Waters,” the conference focused on more than just VGB. As NDPA president, Johnson said it’s been his goal to develop greater collaboration between all parties focused on safe swimming. To further that effort, the symposium included the inaugural Drowning Prevention Summit. Leaders from 19 national organizations — including the U.S. Coast Guard and the YMCA— met to share ideas on working together.

Tom Lachocki, Ph.D., CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation in Colorado Springs, Colo., noted the collaborative spirit.

“This one was different,” Lachocki said. “If you were to ask ‘What brings you to the symposium?’ you tended to get answers like, ‘My 2-year-old daughter drowned four years ago.’ That was troubling, but I was touched to see people really trying to come together.”