More than 70 businesses and chapters of the Florida Swimming Pool Association are banking on Larry Ahern.

The first-term Republican state representative and longtime member of FSPA was in Sarasota last month for a fund-raiser that yielded $18,000 and some spirited discussion of pending matters in Tallahassee.

“I think they were glad to have someone who could explain [their issues] to the rest of the legislature,” Ahern said.

Not unexpectedly, the lawmaker spent a sizable portion of the gathering addressing the local underground economy. Despite increased complaints, Ahern said, the mood in the statehouse is decidedly hands-off.

“We have been banging our heads against the wall about it for as long as I’ve been in the industry,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s just not much of an appetite for it right now — not while the state is in deregulation mode.”

Indeed, when the next legislative session begins in January, the hot-button topic for pools and spas likely will be safety rather than a persistent underground.

Members of FSPA and the United Pool & Spa Association currently are consulting with the state Department of Health on new standards that were signed into law July 1, but still need to be clarified.

Among other provisions, the latest version of the public pool rule, 64E-9, F.A.W., changed the requirements for updating certain vessels built before 1993. Since ’93, state law required that public pools and spas be outfitted solely with gravity-drainage systems. But this year, the legislature passed a new law that allowed the older vessels to be retrofitted with one of several devices or systems that prevent entrapment and evisceration. 

Industry advocates expect the DOH to begin soliciting public proposals and input on the latest revisions to the rule late this month or in early November. Officials anticipate an effective date of March 2012.

Also on the docket for early spring are new energy-efficiency mandates that mirror California’s Title 20 and 24 legislation. In addition to heating requirements and spa standards, the Florida energy law states that any residential filtration pool pump of 1 horsepower or greater must be multispeed. The law applies to new construction and replacement units.

An initial deadline of December 2011 was extended to March 15, 2012, to allow contractors and building departments to educate themselves, as well as the public, on the new energy-efficiency requirements.

“There are still some specifics that we are continuing to work on,” said industry lobbyist Jennifer Hatfield, president of J. Hatfield & Associates in Sarasota. “On existing residential pools, all we can do is inform the consumer, the service professional [and] the contractor ... that it’s something that will save money in the long run.”  

Hatfield noted that the new code doesn’t actually outlaw single-speed pumps — they’ll continue to be available through distribution and retail outlets for non-filtration purposes, as well as for filtration when less than 1hp. And policing residents’ backyards isn’t necessarily realistic.

“At the end of the day, you just hope everyone does the right thing,” she added.