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Mom of hurt girl pleads for bill

Dixie Duncan of Moorhead holds her daughter, Brynn, during a Tuesday state Senate committee hearing considering requiring older children to use booster seats. Brynn was hurt in a crash last year, leaving her with permanent injuries.

ST. PAUL - Dixie Duncan sat in front of the Senate Transportation Committee, daughter Brynn in a wheelchair at her side, and paused to regain her composure.

"Pass this law for Brynn," she pleaded.

Committee members obeyed, unanimously approving a bill requiring children up to 8 years old and 4-foot-9 tall to use proper child restraint systems, such as booster seats. Current law requires such restraints for children younger than 4.

Duncan, who lives in Moorhead, said her daughter, now 8, sustained severe spinal cord injuries in an Aug. 18, 2008, Fergus Falls accident. The girl was in a grandmother's vehicle and not using a child restraint when the grandmother passed out and the vehicle hit a tree.

The grandmother, Linda Duncan of Ottertail, said she feels "horrendous guilt," something she hopes others can avoid.

She wishes she would have had a restraint for her granddaughter.

"Probably the two saddest words we only say are 'if only,'" she told committee members. "Don't let other people say 'if only.'"

The accident occurred after the girl was transferred from her parents' mini-van, which had adequate seat belts, to her grandmother's vehicle, which did not have child restraints.

Her mother said she thought about making a quick trip to buy a child's seat, but decided the girl would be fine.

"The booster seat would have prevented her injury," Duncan, the mother, said.

"If it was law, we would have made sure there was a booster present at all times," she added.

Brynn is confined to a wheel chair after a long hospital stay.

It may have been an inconvenience to buy that booster seat on Aug. 18, but nothing compared to now, Duncan said, when Brynn needs extensive care and cannot run like her friends.

Duncan, who has worked on deaf-related issues in North Dakota, is willing to lobby lawmakers to make children safer. "If it can prevent other kids and families from going through this, even just one, it is helpful."

Committee Chairman Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said that the bill has a better chance this year than in the past, when Gov. Tim Pawlenty and others opposed it. It faces several other Senate committee votes and others in the House.

"If people like this come forth and testify, I think it is a slam-dunk," Murphy said.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.