Politics & Policy

A New Jersey Bill Protects Pool Owners from Low Prices

(Photo: Photographerlondon/Dreamstime)
Draining a pool without a license could soon be illegal in the Garden State.

Americans are getting their pools ready for summer. If you live in New Jersey, you might soon be breaking the law if you drain your pool without a license.

On Monday, New Jersey lawmakers will vote on a bill introduced last week by state senator James Beach that would license “pool and spa service contractors, and pool and spa builders and installers.”

The law provides that “no person shall advertise that he is authorized to engage in, or engage in pool and spa service contracting or pool and spa building and installation unless he satisfies the requirements of this act.”

Under the latest version of the bill, “servicing” includes “the draining, acid washing or backwash filtration of a pool or above-ground pool.” That’s right — a license to drain your pool.

The law also specifies that “an applicant seeking licensure to engage in pool and spa service contracting shall . . . be of good moral character.” It is unclear what problem will be solved by a law mandating that people who service pools have high morals.

What is the reason for this law? Have pool-service contractors caused so much harm that the state decided the only answer was mandatory licenses? Nope. As Reason’s Eric Boehm wrote in October:

No one is even bothering to pretend that it’s about anything other than driving up prices and limiting competition. . . .

So give credit to Lawrence Caniglia for refusing to play those semantic games. Caniglia is the executive director of the Northeast Spa and Pool Association, which is pushing a bill in New Jersey to require a state license for anyone who installs, builds, or services a pool or spa.

“Frankly, we’re looking for a more professional industry — and you can raise the rates you’re charging because you’re . . . a (properly) licensed pool builder or service professional,” Caniglia told Pool and Spa News, a trade publication.

How interesting then, that the bill would establish a “Pool and Spa Service Contractors and Pool and Spa Builders and Installers Advisory Committee,” consisting of seven members, four of whom must belong to the Northeast Spa and Pool Association (NESPA).

It is unclear what problem will be solved by a law mandating that people who service pools have high morals.

In a letter against the bill, the Institute for Justice (IJ) and Americans for Prosperity note: “NESPA operates its own training program and the bill names the Association of Pool and Spa Professions (APSP) as a source of private certification. It is unfortunate that NESPA and APSP seek to borrow state power to exclude competitors.”

In October, IJ’s Nick Sibilia wrote in Forbes that “NESPA also claimed that licensing pool and spa contractors is needed to protect public safety, citing the hundreds of drowning deaths each year for children under 5 nationwide.”

Sibilia addresses the claim in his article, and we can add to his argument by looking at the best publicly available data, which demonstrates no correlation between licensing pool contractors and reducing the number of drowning deaths of children. When one compares 2010 census data of all people younger than 18 in each state with 2014 data from PoolSafely.gov listing state-by-state drowning deaths of children younger than 15, it turns out that the states with the highest number of deaths are also states that license pool contractors. Arizona, Hawaii, Florida, and Louisiana were the only states to have more than eight drowning deaths per million in 2014. All of those states license pool contractors.

One might think the reason for this is simply that those states are southern and have longer pool seasons, but Texas doesn’t license pool contractors, and it had 3.6 deaths per million in 2014. California is also lower on the list; it does license pool contractors, and it had 3.9 deaths per million. Nevada also requires a license and is lower on the list, at 1.5 deaths per million.

One could argue that the publicly available data used here is too imperfect to disprove a correlation, but the data in that case also could not prove that a correlation exists and that therefore mandatory licensing would solve the problem.

While the bill doesn’t appear to be tailored to fix any existing problem, Reason’s Boehm talks about the cost on families:

New Jersey is already one of the most heavily licensed states in the country, with at least 48 professions requiring a government permission slip, according to IJ’s research. As Caniglia helpfully pointed out, licensing drives up the cost of goods and services. In New Jersey, the average family pays an extra $1,200 every year because of the added cost of professional licensing schemes, according to research from the Heritage Foundation.

Boehm also notes that Connecticut passed a similar law, which then led to the arrest in September 2016 of Joseph Verardi for the crime of repairing pool tiles without a license. He had a home-improvement contractor license, but not the proper license to work on pools.

If this legislation is signed into law, consumers will be no better off but will have to pay higher prices, and industry professionals will have to jump through more unnecessary hoops to do their work. But at least Caniglia will get more money.

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