March 25, 2010

House OKs contractor-licensing bill

Opposition in the Senate, however, leaves the measure's chances of final passage in doubt.

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — The House voted 76-70 Wednesday to approve a bill requiring contractors to be licensed, with supporters saying they want to protect homeowners from unscrupulous builders.

The measure, which faces another House vote before it goes to the Senate, would require residential builders to be licensed by the state starting Jan. 1, 2013. Builders would have to pass exams and pay annual fees of as much as $350.

The law also would require some specialty contractors, such as roofers and carpenters, to register with the state and pay annual fees.

The narrow House vote and opposition in the Senate means the bill's chances for final passage are in doubt.

All three senators on the Business, Research and Economic Development Committee, which considered the bill, oppose the measure.

Rep. Nancy Smith, D-Monmouth, said she has worked on the issue for eight years. With statewide building standards set to take effect, she said, it's the right time for licensing.

"Having standards is a good thing," Smith said. "Let's have standards, shall we?"

Opponents said there are ways to help consumers without burdening contractors.

Rep. Les Fossel, R-Alna, a restoration contractor, said that most problems come from roofers, and that better warranties would provide more protection for homeowners.

"Perhaps the next law we have to pass is to license legislators to see if they are competent," he said.

The bill approved Wednesday, an amended version of L.D. 272, lists several exemptions. General contractors whose jobs cost less than $3,000 would not have to be licensed, nor would people who work on their own homes or the homes of family members.

The bill would set up a nine-member board to issue licenses and consider renewals. And it would require contractors who install vinyl and aluminum siding, insulation, flooring and drywall to register with the state and pay annual fees. The same registration requirement would cover roofers, carpenters, masons and those who install foundations and windows.

Specialists could do as much as $1,000 worth of work without being registered.

Some representatives told stories of constituents or family members who had trouble with contractors.

Rep. David Webster, D-Freeport, said his sister hired a roofer who did only half the job, then disappeared. This winter, the shingles gave way, letting water into the house so she now has a mold problem.

"We need some standards in this state," he said.

On the other side, Rep. Jonathan McKane, R-Newcastle, an electrical contractor, said the bill would hurt small contractors, who fill a niche.

"I understand the desire to want to crack down on the perceived epidemic of unscrupulous builders," he said. "I don't believe there is an epidemic."

Rep. Thomas Wright, D-Berwick, a carpenter, spoke on the House floor in favor of the bill, saying the Attorney General's Office estimated that $25 million to $40 million worth of "shoddy construction" is done in Maine every year.

He said Maine is one of only 16 states that do not regulate builders.

"There is no real recourse for homeowners now," he said. "Holding the license over them is the only recourse we have."

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

scover@centralmaine.com

 

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