Day care measure arrives in Congress

Jackie Boatwright now has the ending she wants for the movie about her son.

Ms. Boatwright had delayed filming the story of her son's near-fatal drowning at an uninsured Hephzibah day care and her crusade to prevent similar accidents because the final scene was too ambiguous. It had her standing on the Capitol steps in Washington, hopeful that federal legislation would be passed to force child care providers to disclose whether they have liability insurance.

The scene will now have her watching the president sign into law the Anthony DeJuan Boatwright Act.

"How cool is that for an ending," Ms. Boatwright said Friday. "I'm satisfied now with my ending."

She said the Senate is expected to vote on the bill July 30. Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Chris Dodd, D-Conn., both members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, introduced the legislation Thursday.

Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Roland Burris, D-Ill., co-sponsored the bill. A companion bill, introduced by Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., passed in the House on June 2.

"It has been a very, very, very long journey," the former Augusta resident said. "I feel that I've taken it politically as high as I can to protect other children and families from what I've gone through."

DeJuan, called Juan, was injured in 2001 when he was 14 months old. He wandered into the kitchen of the day care and fell into a mop bucket filled with a mixture of bleach and water.

Juan suffered brain damage.

The day care didn't have liability insurance and wasn't required to have it. A $33 million judgment against the owner did her no good because there was no money to collect.

With the help of Augusta-area legislators, Juan's Law was passed in Georgia in 2004. The measure doesn't force day-care centers to carry insurance, but it requires them to tell parents whether they have it.

The federal legislation will require child-care providers that receive Child Care and Development Block Grant funds to disclose whether they have liability coverage. The bill also would require that states recommend such coverage in their licensing process.

"As the father of two young daughters, I understand the need for parents to be well informed when making decisions about child care," Mr. Dodd said in a prepared statement. "This bill will help to protect children and give parents peace of mind."

Ms. Boatwright said that is why she pushed so long and hard. Juan is now 9, having recently celebrated his birthday. He is in the third grade, being home-schooled by DeKalb County, where they now live, and is able to come off a ventilator every day to breathe on his own and is trying to talk, she said.

"He's surpassed everything that was predicted about him," Ms. Boatwright said. "He's gone above and beyond."

Ms. Boatwright, a former model and TV talk show host, said she hopes to soon resume shooting For the Love of Juan .

The independent movie will complete her mission of making sure what her son endured -- and accomplished -- is never forgotten, she said.

"For others, it's like a great feat. For me, it's been more like, 'See DeJuan, you are still somebody,' " Ms. Boatwright said. "As much as others think of what you can't do, look at what you've done with me being your legs and your eyes and your mouth and your arms and your heart. I became you to show the world who you are and what you are worth to me. So, if nothing else, you've got now two state laws, a federal law and a street named after you.

"How cool is that, huh? For a 9-year-old."

Reach Mike Wynn at (706) 823-3218 or mike.wynn@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT?

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote July 30 on the Anthony DeJuan Boatwright Act. If passed, it will need to be signed into law. The bill requires child care providers that receive Child Care and Development Block Grant funds to disclose whether they carry liability insurance.