The first federal pool safety bill in U.S. history has been reintroduced in Congress.

The Pool and Spa Safety Act (HR 1721) is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). The legislation proposes that the Consumer Product Safety Commission distribute federal grants to states that implement drowning- and entrapment-prevention laws and education programs. The bill specifies how the grant money should be spent, with all going toward enforcement, education and training in the law.

The law also would mandate that all pool and spa drain covers sold in the United States meet the entrapment-protection standards outlined in the ASME/ANSI A112.19.8 standard.

Last year’s version of the bill failed by nine votes during the final hours that the House of Representatives was in session. Now it has until the end of this session, in late 2008, to pass.

Though the current bill is similar to last year’s, it has become stricter in two respects. First, it would require safety vacuum release systems (SVRS’s), suction-limiting vent systems, gravity drainage systems or an automatic pump shut-off system on all new pools — even those with dual main drains.

“You need that layer of protection since ... one drain in a dual main drain system can get blocked, and then all the suction shifts to the other drain,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Secondly, the bill states that the wall of a home cannot serve as part of a four-sided barrier if it has doors or windows. “It isn’t a barrier [even with an alarm],” the Congresswoman said. “It’s a layer of protection, but it doesn’t ensure that a toddler unsupervised wouldn’t wander out the door and potentially fall in the pool. …”

Bill Weber, president/CEO of the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, said the organization plans to talk about these additions with Wasserman Schultz. “There may be one or two issues on which we think some discussions need to take place,” he said. “But we would certainly hope to be in the same position as before, and that is to be ultimately supportive.” With the recently completed ANSI/APSP-7 standard for entrapment prevention, he said he expects quick resolution on that issue.

Two Senate sponsors have been found: Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). They will bring a similar bill to their legislative body in the near future, Wasserman Schultz said. So far, the House version has 15 co-sponsors, including four Republicans.

Considering the shift in power that Congress experienced this year, along with the bill’s bipartisan support, Wasserman Schultz sees the legislation’s outlook as positive.

Its odds of becoming law may have increased due to other reasons as well. Wasserman Schultz’s status has changed within the House, said Jonathan Beeton, her communications director. She has become one of a dozen chief deputy whips who help build consensus among party representatives. She was also listed as the 32nd most powerful member of the House, up from about 390th in her last, freshman term, Beeton added. Finally, because of a technicality, last year’s version required a two-thirds vote. This session, it may only need a plurality.