By Chris Price
Leaders of two of Arkansas’ trade groups for commercial/industrial and residential builders are alarmed about certain bills that have been filed in previous legislative sessions and could be filed in the future.
Bill Roachell, president of the Arkansas Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, a construction industry trade association which primarily represents firms that work in the industrial and commercial sectors, and Jon Callahan, president of the Home Builders Association of Greater Little Rock, a non-profit trade association which represents all facets of the residential building industry, say legislation aimed at reducing or eliminating licensing for contractors and builders is potentially dangerous and could negatively impact Arkansans.
In recent legislative sessions, several proposals, most recently 2017 House Bills 1551, 2275 and 2159, were filed under the auspices of stimulating job creation and economic development while preserving health and safety standards, establishing a state policy pertaining to the regulation of occupations, providing for oversight of state occupational regulations and creating an occupational regulation oversight subcommittee. Proponents of the bills say current licensing guidelines limit competition and that jobs will be created without them.
The associations say these and similar bills will eliminate licensing that validates an individual’s qualifications and were put in place to protect the public.
“Our argument is that licensing is for consumer protection, health and safety,” Roachell says. “Arkansas is one of the safest states in the country because of the licensing process that we have in place. We’re afraid that if this type of legislation were to go through, it would be just like the wild, wild west. You’ll have all kinds of unqualified folks coming into the state with no proven base-level competence doing unsafe, shoddy, sub-standard work and taking advantage of people.”
The Arkansas Contractors Licensing Board was created in 1939 to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Arkansas. It establishes minimum standards for licensed contractors that include experience in the construction industry, business skills and financial stability. A license is needed for commercial work in excess of $50,000 and for residential construction or improvements greater than $2,000. The filing fee for a new commercial or residential builder’s license is $100, while a renewal is $50. A residential remodeler’s or home improvement specialty license is $50, with the renewal $25.
“Nobody likes red tape, and we don’t want regulations put in place just for the sake of having rules and regulations,” Callahan said. “This is a health and life safety issue. When someone goes into a home or building, they need to trust that it was built right and won’t be defective. We owe it to the public to protect them from harm.”
Licensing protects consumers looking to hire contractors, Roachell says. “Right now, if an electrician works on a house and messes something up, the remedy is to go to the electrical board and file a complaint. If cause is found, the board can suspend that license and fine that electrician. If this type of legislation goes through, the only remedy would be the courts,” he said. “We don’t feel like that’s right.”