Just Keep Swimming: DOJ Conveniently Pushes Pool Regulations Past Election

Posted: May 26, 2012 11:56 AM

Yet again, the Obama administration shows that its principles have limits, at least where electoral success is concerned. The Justice Department has pushed back a contentious regulation requiring public and commercial swimming pools to be equipped with elevators for the disabled. Rather than forcing hotel and municipal pools to comply with the regulation, passed as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the DOJ has opted to wait until after the election to enforce the rule. Of course, this means they're also avoiding a pre-November conflict with the powerful hotel lobby (pun unintended, whomp).

After initially setting a March 15 deadline -- and telling the industry it wouldn't budge -- the department has granted two extensions. After first saying it might grant a reprieve until September, Justice announced last week that pool owners won't have to comply with the new requirements until early next year, a move that gets the controversy safely past the election.

At issue is whether hotels and other facilities will have to install fixed lifts to assist disabled people getting in and out of their pools, a move that can require hiring a contractor and tearing up the pool deck at a cost of as much as $6,000. Many pool owners were hoping to comply with the rules by purchasing less costly portable lifts that could be wheeled out to poolside as needed. Hotel owners who already have lifts say few of their customers ever ask for them.

Pragmatism over principle, as always. If there's money or support to be lost, the Obama administration is always accommodating.

That being said, the regulation itself places such a burden on community pools, that many are reportedly set to close, as they can't afford to install the expensive -- and underused -- elevators. Furthermore, there are fears of increased liability, as the elevators are typically in the shallow end of the pool, where children may jump off and injure themselves.

The guidance created a new set of potential problems and concerns. Among them was that children might climb on the lifts _ which would be built at the shallow end of the pool _ and potentially hurt themselves by falling or diving off.

The January directive put hotel owners in a real bind. Over the horizon they saw themselves being hit with government penalties and private lawsuits for failing to comply with the rules. Some hotels announced they would have to close their pools. Community and municipal pools risked being out of compliance as well.

Should these pools close, small hotels could face a loss in business, and lower income families who depend on community pools for their summer fun will suffer, too. It's a well-meaning regulation -- after all, the disabled should have the chance to enjoy swimming pools, too -- but it's one that fails to take into account all possible consequences, and likely hurts more people than it helps.