The Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday gave approval to a bill that would require grease traps at restaurants to have a lock or be heavy enough to prevent accidental openings.
The bill comes after 3-year-old Sadie Grace Andrews drowned in a grease trap behind Bruster's Ice Cream on East University Drive in October 2017.
"There are not any statewide regulations out there about this right now," Sen. Tom Whatley said Thursday. "This will hopefully make sure all grease traps in the state are safe so nothing like this ever happens again."
Lawmakers on Wednesday worked on an amendment that would name the bill the Sadie Grace Andrews Act.
The bill requires businesses to ensure that the traps are secured at all times either with locking screws or some other locking mechanism. The lids of the grease traps must also be capable of sustaining human weight.
Video surveillance of the area showed Sadie playing with her siblings and falling through a lid covering one of the grease pits on the property.
Before the incident, city officials inspected traps — used to collect used grease and solids produced in the process of cooking — to ensure that they were regularly emptied in order to prevent the city's wastewater system from becoming clogged. Maintenance and safety were up to the private business.
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Bruster's trap was inspected in June 2017.
The Auburn Republican is sponsoring the bill, and 18 other senators, from both sides of the aisle, are co-sponsoring it. It could be on the Senate floor within weeks.
"We tried to draw up a bill that would least interfere with private business but also get the point across that we need to get this safe, get this fixed," Whatley said.
The Andrews family spoke in favor of the legislation during the committee's Wednesday meeting.
“I hope this law will help bring awareness to this issue and that it would prevent something like this from ever happening again,” said Tracy Andrews, Sadie's father.
City officials launched an investigation into its grease trap policies and the case, which the Lee County Coroner's Office ruled accident, was to be put before a grand jury for disposition. The coroner said after the toddler drowned that the grease trap "was not secure."
The outcome of the case hasn't been made public.
There are currently two other grease traps in Auburn with similar configurations to the grease trap at Bruster's Ice Cream. The traps were located in an open area with a plastic lid.
The two other restaurants — including D Square Donuts and Venditori's — already had additional safety mechanisms including steel screws or took additional action after Sadie's death and requests from the city.
D Square Donuts already had posts and chains surrounding their grease trap.
"Most companies in the state that have these want to be in compliance and want to have this done," Whatley said.
After Sadie's death, Bruster's complied with a request from city police to put a manhole neck and a metal cover over their grease trap. That wasn't a legal requirement before.
Whatley's bill is modeled after a similar law from North Carolina.
There are hundreds of other traps in Auburn but their lids are in roadways and other vehicle traffic areas, sealed with heavy metal covers similar to manholes.
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