Industry professionals in Florida are split over a proposed safety law targeting commercial pools and spas.

“We’ve talked with the bill’s sponsor and we have members on both sides,” said Jennifer Hatfield, a Sarasota, Fla.-based lobbyist who heads up government affairs for the Florida Swimming Pool Association.

FSPA recently came out against HB 1409, however, and has called on its membership to notify lawmakers of their position.

Currently, the state Department of Health requires a gravity-drainage system on all public vessels. But the bill now moving through the legislature would allow multiple entrapment-prevention options instead.

If signed into law, the new guidelines would take effect in July.

The measure, modeled after the federal Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, has vocal supporters and opponents.

Gravity systems have been required on Florida’s commercial pools since 1977. Two years later, spas were mandated to include vent lines; the gravity requirement was finally extended to spas in 1993.

Then, in May 2009, the state health department revised its rules to require that all commercial pools and spas — essentially those built before 1977 and 1993, respectively — be retrofitted with the gravity systems, with a few exemptions. The rule allowed for a phased implementation, with wading pools and the oldest spas required to comply within about a year. Newer vessels were given staggered deadlines, the latest being 2013.

At present, thousands of units, mostly public spas, remain to be retrofitted.

Opponents of the new bill argue that gravity-drainage has a proven track record, and should remain the system of choice. They also contend the costs associated with such systems often are overstated, and that alternative devices require ongoing maintenance and testing.

“[This bill is] taking a step backward,” said Chris Wright, a commercial pool specialist at Aquatic Architechs in Naples, Fla. “I know it’s a bad time in Florida, and a lot of these condos and associations are suffering. But we’ve met with everyone from small trailer parks to high-rise condos, and the consensus is that they just have to bite the bullet and do it.

“I really don’t understand why someone wants to put into law something that is easing the safety requirements of the state,” he added.

One of the sticking points, Wright believes, is a misunderstanding of the true cost of installing gravity systems. In conversations with health officials, he said he’s heard estimates ranging from $60,000 to $80,000 for conversions.

Wright placed the actual expense within the $10,000 to $20,000 range for most jobs.

But supporters of the measure maintain that the VGB-styled bill brings the state in line with federal anti-entrapment standards, as well as providing for additional and less costly options.

“There’s a true financial impact here. This gravity-drainage requirement might not be achievable,” said Gary Kaplan, president and partner at Ike’s Carter Pools in Oakland Park, Fla. “So I’m for exploring a more affordable alternative that is still making it safer.

“I’m seeing kiddie pools and spas that are being closed down because people can’t afford the [gravity-drainage] retrofits,” Kaplan added. “For new construction, gravity-feed is not a cost-prohibitive alternative. But on retrofits, you run the risk of pricing something out of reach.”