The author of the first federal pool and spa safety legislation is speaking her mind.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) has called for strict state enforcement of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act and a greater commitment to education. She also stated that four-sided fencing should be required across the country.
“When the safety of our children is on the line, we simply cannot afford to be lenient,” she told nearly 200 attendees at the National Drowning Prevention Symposium in Miami Beach late last month.
But the Congresswoman saved her more pointed comments for an exclusive interview with Pool & Spa News in early March, when she urged pool and spa professionals to assume a more active role in educating consumers on product and equipment safety.
“There are varying degrees of involvement on the part of the pool industry. Some do it well,” she said. “Some treat it as a roll-your-eyes obligation as opposed to an essential element of their sale of the pool. I think it should be the responsibility of all of us to ensure that, if we’re selling a product, we provide the information … to make sure that it can be utilized safely.”
Wasserman Schultz remains active in water-safety issues. Currently she is working on new water-safety legislation, but wouldn’t comment on its content or timing. On the floor, she co-sponsored a Congressional resolution encouraging public and private funding for learn-to-swim programs in underserved communities.
Speaking on the VGB Act, the legislator conceded the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is charged with implementing the law, lacks the resources for enforcement.
Instead, she said safety advocates must lobby the states to establish statutes that remain true to the federal version.
“I would not like to see a long list of options in state laws for pool safety because there are many different kinds of products, not all of which are necessarily safe,” she added. Consistent with the letter of the federal standard, Wasserman Schultz maintained that all noncompliant pools should be closed immediately.
But at least one leading safety advocate disagrees. Johnny Johnson, founding member of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, favors the law, but expressed reservations about shutting down lower-risk pools.
“There could be even more drowning through lack of lifeguard training and lack of children having the opportunity to swim,” said the owner of Blue Buoy Swim School in Tustin, Calif.
When asked for a response, Wasserman Schultz held firm: “Those kids can swim in pools that have the safety equipment.”
Also sharing the spotlight in Miami Beach was Alan Korn, director of public policy and general counsel for Safe Kids USA, who discussed the history and implementation status of the VGB Act. In addition, International Swimming Hall of Fame CEO Bruce Wigo offered a comprehensive tutorial on the history of swimming in America.
NDPA reported record attendance for its eighth annual symposium on Feb. 23-24, as well as a robust new-member drive attracting some 70 associates. Organizers plan to build on their success at next year’s conference, likely to be in Baltimore or Washington, D.C.
“We’re hoping to gain new networking and partnering opportunities with some of the large organizations headquartered there,” Johnson said.