In recent weeks, industry associations have combated measures in at least two states that aimed to diminish the roles inspectors play in enforcing compliance with federal and local regulations.
It’s part of what some see as a growing desire among certain lawmakers to reduce public health regulations and, by extension, government costs. But in at least two cases, industry officials believe this is done at the expense of public swimming pools.
“We are starting to see in various states this movement that wants to eliminate oversight by the health department,” said Jennifer Hatfield, a government relations consultant who works for the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals and the Florida Swimming Pool Association.
Many in the industry believe third-party inspectors play an important role in protecting those who swim in pools, as well as those who maintain them.
Recent instances in Georgia and Florida brought the issue to light.
Georgia House Bill 219, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Jones (R-Brunswick), aimed to exempt semipublic pools, such as those found at condominiums and apartments, from licensing and inspection requirements. The bill arose from the frustrations of a condo owner who fell victim to an overzealous health inspector.
The Georgia Realtors Association championed the bill, framing it as a property rights cause. The group even honored Jones for his work on the bill. “Private property owners should not be targeted or burdened with unnecessary regulations and expenses that are applicable only to public pools …,” Rep. Jones said in a press release.
The bill sailed through the House with a vote of 152-8 last month, prompting the APSP Georgia Chapter into action. Industry officials tried to convince senators that the bill posed a safety threat to the approximately 6.9 million people who swim in pools at multifamily properties.
In addition, the chapter believed that unregulated pools would add to the liability that service companies already bear, said Shawn Still, CEO and president of Olympic Pool Plastering in Norcross.
“It’s not that health inspections necessarily make things safer,” he said. “But it gives you a forced reset that everything is working properly. … It’s checks-and-balances for us, too.” The chapter hired a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm called Dentons to help thwart the effort. APSP, at the national level, issued a call to action, urging members to contact state senators.
An insurance lobbying group also became involved, fearing that the bill could increase liability. Others joined in: Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the National Swimming Pool Foundation, and the National Drowning Prevention Alliance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cannot legally lobby against a bill, but it agreed to provide testimony.
Still worked with Rep. Jones to amend the bill so it only applies to pools with a bather load capacity of 75 or fewer. Those pools will simply require an annual inspection. The Realtors association is satisfied because it should protect properties from overbearing inspectors. The revised bill is expected to pass both houses, Still said.
Meanwhile in Florida, FSPA is grappling with a law that effectively stripped inspectors of their authority to shut down pools.
As a cost-cutting measure, the law removed duplicative functions between the state’s health and building departments. It essentially divided pool inspection responsibilities between the two agencies: The building department oversees all construction items, such as barriers and main drains, while the health department manages water quality.
The problem? The health department doesn’t perform routine maintenance inspections.
Though passed in 2012, the law hasn’t taken effect yet. This affords FSPA and other industry constituents time to work with state officials on revising Public Pool Rule 64E-9 to ensure that water and equipment are safe. Hatfield expects a revised rule to go in effect in May.