Contractors and their trade organizations in Maine are split on whether to support legislation to start licensing home builders in 2012.

Some believe this is the wrong economic climate in which to expand reg- ulations; others believe it`s time for more industry accountability.

“There`s plenty of builders in the state of Maine that don`t have a clue how to build,“ said Gary Jordan, president of the Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of Maine, which supports licensing. “I see it all the time.“

Last Tuesday, the Business, Research and Economic Development Committee held a work session on a bill, L.D. 272, that would license home builders.

Its sponsor, Rep. Bruce MacDonald, D-Boothbay, has amended the legislation to postpone licensing until after a universal building code takes effect this summer. MacDonald`s amendment would also scale back the licensing procedures so that “specialty contractors“ such as roofers and framers would be encouraged, but not required, to be licensed.

All but 19 states have some form of home-contractor licensing or regulation, according to MacDonald.

The changes in the amendment were significant enough that the committee took the rare step of scheduling a second public hearing for the bill, at 1 p.m. Feb. 23.

Requiring licenses for contractors has failed several times before the Legislature.

The home-builders association, for example, did not support the notion until passage of Maine`s universal building code two years ago.

Another contractors` organization remains against the idea.

“It`s amazing that, at a time when state government is contracting due to lack of revenue, the state could be contemplating an expansion of a regulating apparatus,“ said John O`Dea, the chief executive of the Associated General Contractors of Maine, which represents mostly large commercial contractors who would not be directly affected by the legislation.

He said laws requiring contracts for large jobs should protect against “fly-by-night“ contractors doing shoddy work for uninformed consumers.

“These consumers haven`t done their homework, haven`t checked with their neighbors to see who does a good job and who doesn`t,“ O`Dea said. “I`m not sure that there`s a state licensing scheme that`s ever going to make somebody be an educated consumer.“

Scott Vincent, owner of Vincent and Company of Manchester, was a licensed builder in Massachusetts before he moved to Maine. Although he supports the idea of bringing greater accountability to his industry, he does not like the provision in MacDonald`s bill that would create a board to collect fees and administer a licensing test.

“The money would be better spent on code enforcement,“ he said. “Everybody out there working legally should have an opportunity to get a license for free.“

He would like to see the list of registered contractors available online, so when the statewide building code is implemented, code enforcement officers could penalize registered contractors for violations — and eventually yank their licenses if enough problems occur.

The licensing board would be authorized to decide whether demerits for code violations could lead to loss of a license.

Vincent also does not think a contractor test should be mandatory, as called for in the bill.

“It`s not fair to deny somebody a license because they`re not good at memorizing or taking a test,“ he said. “If they can look it up in a (code) book and say `Yup, this is the way you`re supposed to build it,` I don`t see a problem with that.“

Jordan said his group had concerns about the rules governing the licensing board, and how specialty contractors would be exempt from the requirement, but still supports the concept.

“If you are really serious about building homes in Maine, you should be in favor of the building code and you should be supportive of this licensing,“ he said. “Because you`ll know that the guy next to you is going to have to meet the same standard.“

 

State House Reporter Ethan Wilensky-Lanford can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

[email protected]