Contractor licensing authorities threatened by anti-regulatory movement, says PHCCNC

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North Carolina Construction News staff writer

The association representing North Carolina’s licensed plumbing and mechanical contractors says a movement is in place to end or radically limit mandatory licensing of trades and occupations, and that the industry should be ready for a fight to protect its licensing system.

Jim Pendergrass, executive director of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors of North Carolina (PHCCNC) says anti-regulatory lobbyists recently almost succeeded in ending contractor certification or registration requirements in Texas, when the legislature failed to pass re-enabling legislation for that state’s regulatory agency.

If the change had gone through, anyone could call themselves a “plumber” and be able to do business in the state, regardless of training or qualifications. Some municipal building officials were concerned because they said they would need to enact local rules to ensure compliance with building code requirements for public safety if state regulation ended.

The problem was at least temporarily averted when the Texas governor implemented an executive order to stall the change for two years, at least until the legislature can review it again.

“Diligent and tireless effort by PHCC of Texas, including organizing a rally at the Texas Capitol, which was attended by representatives of PHCC National as well, was instrumental in the outcome,” Pendergrass wrote in the PHCCNC newsletter. “Without it, the Texas plumbing contractor license would have been eliminated.”

In North Carolina, “the efforts have been largely aimed at the overall system of occupational licenses, with our plumbing and mechanical licensure being in the line of fire,” Pendergrass said in an email to North Carolina Construction News. “So nothing (is yet) directly targeted at us. However we’d be affected if the proponents of removing occupational licenses were to get their way.”

In other jurisdictions, “the specific efforts have entailed legislation that either eliminated licensing boards altogether, consolidated some under one umbrella which would compromise the needed individual trade expertise certification and subsequent oversight, or added overly burdensome additional requirements on them that would in many cases make it financially untenable for a licensing board to continue operations,” Pendergrass wrote.

“This is particularly troubling related to our board, as they fall under the requirements of the general statutes, and yet are completely self-funded and receive no support in that regard from the state.

“At this point, other than a unified effort between associations that support and serve the various licensees there has not been a directed political campaign to address the issue,” he said.

Pendergrass says the deregulation proponents have argued along the lines that “occupational licenses restrict free enterprise and dissuade individuals from taking up the trade” and the concepts come out of proponents of the positions of the John Locke Foundation.”

“What we’re wanting to do is build awareness among contractors in our association, and beyond, who are diligently working to employ their trade and provide safe drinking water, sanitary systems, and conditioned air that we breathe, and are thus not really focused on this issue that could threaten their livelihood and the integrity of their mission to ‘protect the health of the nation’,” Pendergrass says.

“We are concerned that the fight may come back to our door in a different form, so we want to be prepared,” he said.

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