A pool and spa safety bill was introduced into the California legislature in a somewhat last-minute fashion, leaving the industry scrambling to respond.
Assembly Bill 470 from Hansen Chu (D-San Jose) actually surfaced in early 2015, but originally addressed criminal checks for those providing services to the elderly, blind and disabled. It had already passed through the Assembly and moved to its first Senate committee when, in May of this year, Chu performed what some call a “gut and amend.” He dropped the original language and replaced it with the pool and spa safety bill.
Chu said he was made aware of the drowning rate in the U.S. — 7, 000 nationwide, his sources said — and hoped to make a difference immediately. “I don’t want to lose more lives,” he said. “If I can save one life this year, it’s worth it.”
The bill contains two new requirements, but it’s the statement of intent that concerns industry officials most. AB 470 contends that isolation fencing provides the most effective protection against drowning. The bill doesn’t take this any further, but officials fear the statement could lay groundwork for future requirements. “It’s a concern that all of a sudden the next bill says, ‘We already have legislative intent that this is the best way. Why don’t we do this?’ Or that local governments decide to do it,” said John Norwood, executive director for the California Pool & Spa Association in Sacramento.
For decades, CPSA has maintained that isolation fencing has not proven to protect children more than other means. The group has sought the most flexible safety requirements possible. Norwood said fencing can create an attractive nuisance, appealing to some children’s instinct to explore what’s off limits. In addition, he said, latches can fail and people can prop doors open.
“It’s not necessarily the end-all or be-all,” he added.
As for requirements, the bill would increase the number of safety devices needed on new pools from one to two from a list that includes enclosures; removable mesh fencing; covers; door alarms; self-closing, self-latching devices; pool alarms; and other devices that offer equal protection. The bill would allow so-called oral alarms that emit a verbal message.
“The more, the better,” Chu said. “If I had a choice, I would probably do three, but I think two would be much more effective in saving lives than one . ... and the second is not that expensive.”
Some localities already require this, Norwood said, and while CPSA would prefer the current single-device mandate, the association doesn’t believe the proposed change would be prohibitive.
AB 470 also would mandate inspections of residential pools before a home is sold to verify the presence of two devices. Chu said this was meant to raise awareness and increase the number of pools that are safeguarded. “This is just one more enforcement,” he said. “I don’t think any level of the government has the power to really go out and inspect all pools.”
Real estate organizations have challenged this clause.
Because the bill had passed through the Assembly in its original form, the industry has an abbreviated window to react. AB 470 must go through the entire Senate process, but if it passes there, it would go directly to the Assembly floor for a vote.
“It’s not like having a full committee hearing,” Norwood said.
But the bill must move fairly fast. It has to make it out of Senate committee by June’s end. After a July recess, the bill must pass both houses by Aug. 30, when the legislative session ends.
CPSA is reaching out to officials, including Chu, as well as the safety groups endorsing the bill, in hopes of removing the language regarding isolation barriers. Additionally, the group wants to ensure that, if the two-device requirement passes, counties and cities are barred from imposing stricter measures.
Aside from bristling at how the bill was introduced, the California industry is somewhat disheartened that this subject has come up again. CPSA worked closely with legislators on crafting the current state pool safety law, in large part to avoid isolation-fencing requirements.
“We thought we had made a good deal coming up with the original Swimming Pool Safety Act,” said CPSA Chairman Jerry Wallace. “So to see it come up again is frustrating.”
But it is a sensitive subject, so the industry must tread lightly, he added. “Drowning is a big deal — there’s no two ways around that,” he said. “We as an industry have to be cognizant of that fact.”