As we pause to celebrate Independence Day this weekend, we should remember those famous words expressed by the Founders in July 1776: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
The Founders replaced a system of government in which the people had no voice with one in which they did. They specified that government only derives “just powers from the consent of the governed.” And they instituted a democratic system in which, eventually, everyone would have a say.
Of course, the ability to change laws for the better or make your voice heard in Washington is limited in today’s world. In Missouri, it’s different. Here, with a citizen-legislature closer to their constituents, any single Missourian with a good idea can change the law for the better.
This week I want to talk about two heroes of the democratic process this year in Missouri – two Missourians who suffered a tremendous personal tragedy, but who then went to work changing Missouri law to help avoid anyone else having to go through the same loss.
Anna and Aaron Haber are two young parents from Missouri. When they went to choose a day care for their children, they did their research and found a place that was both licensed and reputable. On August 20, 2014, they dropped their two children off in the morning – including Owen George Haber, their seven month old.
Many people don’t realize it, but, at that age, it’s not safe to place any extra material in a crib with a baby. Nor is it safe to wrap the crib with bumper-pads, sleep-positioning devices, or anything which might restrict the air-flow to the child. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ safe sleep recommendations makes clear that these materials should not be in a baby’s crib. The reason is simple: these materials risk suffocation.
Owen was put down for a nap that day and never woke up. I cannot imagine the grief felt by Anna and Aaron. It’s hard to say how any of us would react to such a tragedy. It would be an understandable reaction to withdraw or avoid the subject.
That’s not what Anna and Aaron did. They decided they didn’t want any other child or any other parents to suffer the same tragedy. So they started contacting legislators.
Their own state representative is Rep. Jeanne Kirkton from St. Louis. Rep. Kirkton filedHouse Bill 707 to require all licensed day care facilities to implement a safe sleep policy for babies that follows the rules of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Anna and Aaron did their part as well. They traveled to the capitol on several occasions to tell their story to legislators and why the bill was important for protecting children. They had to re-tell and re-live their tragedy in every single meeting. I met with them in the hallway and will admit to crying with them in public. And they did this time and time again.
It probably would have been easier psychologically for Anna and Aaron not to re-tell Owen’s story each and every time. But they realized that, unless they were there to explain the tragedy, their bill to protect children might get lost in the mix somewhere.
They found other allies, including Sen. Jeannie Riddle (R-Mokane). Then Sen. Riddle and Rep. Kirkton did their part. They looked for bills upon which to stick HB 707 as an amendment. Eventually, Senate Bill 341, sponsored by Sen. Riddle was Truly Agreed and Finally Passed by the legislature. SB 341 sits on Gov. Nixon’s desk awaiting his signature.
Anna and Aaron Haber are heroes of democracy. After personal tragedy, they realized the law could be changed to better protect Missouri children. Rather than withdrawing, they chose to work to protect others. I’m not confident I could do it. Their actions took personal courage – and because of them, Missouri children will be safer.
Oh, and there’s another happy part to this story. The Habers are expecting their third child in September. May little Owen George’s soul rest in peace knowing that he will not be forgotten, and that his parents fought so hard to make the world a safer place for other children.