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Tales of the Red Tape #29: Drowning in New Regulations

Posted By Diane Katz On March 19, 2012 @ 6:12 pm In Economics | Comments Disabled

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Some 120 regulations taking effect in the past year require enhanced accommodations for disabled individuals at 65 different types of public and private facilities—encompassing 7 million privately owned sites and 80,000 units of state and local government—including stadiums; convention centers; auditoriums; airport terminals; public parking facilities; theaters and concert halls; jails; prisons; bowling alleys; fishing piers; amusement parks; hotels, motels, and spas; restaurants; stores; health care clinics; and office buildings (to name a few).

All of which will cost more than $1 billion [2] annually for each of the next 15 years, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ), which also admits that “facilities or users may incur costs in areas that are not quantified.”

Indeed. The agency’s cost calculation doesn’t capture the teeth-grinding aggravation that typically ensues when one is forced to deal with the federal bureaucracy. Hoteliers are an unfortunate example.

The new rules require (for the first time) that swimming pools, wading pools, and spas—some 300,000 of them—be made “accessible” for the disabled. But the folks who actually own the pools have no say in how to comply. On the contrary, the government dictates every detail (e.g., “A transfer space of 60 inches minimum by 60 inches minimum with a slope not steeper than 1:48 shall be provided at the base of the transfer platform surface and shall be centered along a 24 inch minimum side of the transfer platform.”)

These regulations were published on September 15, 2010, after a rulemaking that stretched six years. Shortly thereafter, manufacturers began furious production of the various components needed to retrofit pools. Hotels and the like were racing to meet the compliance deadline despite lacking clarity on key elements of the regulation.

The DOJ issued a “technical assistance document” in January that served only to confuse matters even worse. In its guidance, the agency stated that pool “lifts” had to be fixed to pool decks—i.e., portable lifts would not meet the standard.

This was news to the hoteliers, who pointed out that the original rules made no such distinction and, consequently, thousands of retrofit components became unusable. After several Members of Congress complained, the DOJ extended the compliance deadline by 60 days—until May 15, 2012—and issued a request for comments on the rules from the pool industry.

So now no one has pool access where construction is in limbo as the government attempts to sort out its own rules. If the bureaucrats who write them don’t know what they mean, it’s pretty clear that we’ve gone off the regulatory deep end.


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[1] Image: http://blog.heritage.org/wp-content/uploads/swimming-pool.jpg

[2] $1 billion: http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/RIA_2010regs/ria.htm

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