GOP looks to stop federal regs on public swimming pools

Two Senate Republicans have introduced legislation that would overturn Justice Department regulations that will soon force public-access swimming pools across the country to install handicapped-accessible ramps and lifts or face a fine of up to $100,000.

The Justice Department regulations are set to take effect on Thursday, despite complaints from hotels and other organizations that the rule will require them to spend up to $9,000 to stay in compliance with the rule.

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DOJ issued the rule under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But the bill, S. 2186, introduced by South Carolina GOP Sens. Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham on Monday, would prevent the attorney general from enforcing any rule related to public pools.

Specifically, it would amend the ADA in two places to say, Neither the Attorney General nor any official of the Federal Government shall have authority, under this subtitle or any other provision of Federal law, to administer or enforce a covered regulation, with respect to a pool provided by a public entity and covered by this subtitle.

"This is another one-size-fits-all big government mandate that could have a negative impact on Americans," DeMint said Tuesday. "It could lead to increased litigation and heavy fines that could force pools to close or raise fees on families. Pools with public access should have the flexibility to work directly with people with disabilities to accommodate their needs."

A House aide said industry groups and community pools are worried that the March 15 deadline will open them up to potential lawsuits if they are not in compliance.

The Justice Department has explained how the rule will operate in several clarifying letters to industry groups. In a February letter, for example, DOJ said any new pool-related construction that starts on or after March 15 must comply with the rule.

DOJ said hotels must remove barriers to handicapped use in every pool they oversee if doing so is readily achievable, and take minimum steps if complete removal is not readily achievable.

It is important to note that the barrier removal obligation is a continuing one, and it is expected that a business will take steps to improve accessibility over time, DOJ wrote, also stating that if a fixed chairlift or ramp is not feasible, owners may consider a portable pool lift.

— This story was updated at 6:27 p.m. to add comments from DeMint.

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