The federal regulatory bureaucracy has become so large, burdensome and resistant to common sense that Justice Department lawyers actually spent months telling the hotel, water park and athletic club industries that using portable lifts to place disabled people in swimming pools was a form of discrimination.
At issue is the reach of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law was enacted more than 20 years ago with the noble goal of ending discrimination against the disabled and improving their access to public places. However, many business groups warned Congress that the law's vague language would impose job-killing costs on businesses without commensurate improvement in the quality of life of the disabled. And Washington's army of regulation writers, who create the specific rules that apply to each law, have fulfilled that prophecy.
Those regulators, with the support of the Justice Department, determined this year that it wasn't enough to require newly built public pools to have fixed lift systems, while having existing pools provide a less-costly portable lift to assist disabled swimmers. No, the rules stipulated that every public pool required a permanent chairlift with railings and ramps - retrofits that require the draining and closing of pools for construction. Failing to comply with the rule, which was scheduled to take effect May 21, can expose pool operators to lawsuits and up to $55,000 in federal fines for a first offense.
In an April meeting with the Review-Journal's editorial board, executives with the Nevada Hotel & Lodging Association said those retrofits could cost as much as $50,000 per pool, when adequate mobile lifts cost about $6,000. The Association of Pool and Spa Professionals estimated the rule would impose more than $1 billion in costs nationwide. Lift manufacturers, meanwhile, couldn't possibly meet an immediate demand for hundreds of thousands of fixed systems. As a result, scores of smaller hotels, motels and clubs - many of which have never used their portable lifts even once - were prepared to indefinitely close their swimming pools.
The rule was especially problematic on the Strip, where many resorts have several swimming pools and spas apiece - each of which would have required a permanent lift.
Thankfully, intense lobbying by the American Gaming Association and other hotel groups compelled the Justice Department to delay the rule's implementation until Jan. 31. And it appears the Justice Department's hard line on the rule will be relaxed, tying lift requirements to a pool's size and eliminating the across-the-board, fixed-lift mandate.
This fight is not about making things difficult for the disabled. It's about finding a balance that gives businesses flexibility in accommodating disabled customers. It's about keeping costs in line with benefits.
It's also instructive in how Washington works. How could so many well-paid bureaucrats not foresee the obvious problems and consequences of their initial pool regulations? Because they don't function in the real world.