Obama’s war on swimming pools could force hotel owners to take a bath

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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On the heels of the Labor Department’s decision to withdraw a rule that would have applied child labor laws to family farms, another governmental regulation — this one targeting the hospitality industry — is beginning to draw attention.

In January, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division handed down a new mandate requiring hotels and public pools to provide mechanical wheelchair lifts at both new and existing swimming pools (portable lifts will no longer be sufficient.) These facilities were originally given until March 15 to comply (the deadline was later moved to May 21). Violators could be fined tens of thousands of dollars by the Justice Department.

It’s easy to cast swimming pools as a rich person’s luxury item, but the cost of retrofitting every public swimming pool in the nation — during already difficult economic times — could have drastic consequences for already-struggling hotels and resorts (the estimated cost per unit is $10,000 to comply or an estimated total of more than a billion dollars nationally.)

What is more, though everyone can appreciate the goal of making pools more accessible to people with disabilities, the strictness of the mandate displays a lack of commons sense. Many hotels and resorts have multiple swimming pools. But rather than requiring every facility to provide wheelchair access to one or two swimming pools, it would require every pool to comply.

Obviously, businesses in some states will be hit much harder than others. Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake has taken a lead role in pushing back against the mandate. He organized a letter in early March, signed by the Republican Members of the Arizona House Delegation, to Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, urging them to reconsider, or at least, provide more time for compliance.

It’s easy to imagine some of the unintended consequences, which could include lawsuits, closing pools, or simply the decision to build fewer pools in the future.

Matt K. Lewis