July, 2008
Legislative News
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



A Busy Legislative Year, and It's Not Over

BOB KOCIOLEK

At the beginning of 2008, the second year of the 07/08 legislative cycle, 31 states regulated inspectors or inspections. So far this year, Washington state passed a licensing law and Kansas passed a registration law, bringing the new total to 33. The governor of Georgia vetoed a licensing bill. Another licensing bill died in Missouri. And New Hampshire may still pass one; the legislature is in session until June 30. Thirty-four states have adjourned.

The following reports are from ASHI leaders who are deeply involved in local legislation efforts.

Missouri 2008 Legislative Update from Harry O. Morrell

The state of Missouri legislative session for 2008 ended on May 16 without any home inspection licensing in place. In fact, it was not even close. Legislators were not interested in pushing a home inspection licensing bill through, not in this session anyway.

This does not mean professional home inspectors in Missouri were not involved with or connected to the legislative process. The three major ASHI chapters in Missouri formed a state association, the Missouri Association of Home Inspectors (MAHI), that has served us well. We have a great, full-time lobbyist who monitors legislators and legislation year-round for us. Our mission statement is to monitor, support or oppose any legislation that involves home inspection in the state of Missouri — nothing more, nothing less.

We did have a bill, HB 2057, that made it out of committee, but never made it to the House floor. MAHI supported this bill and was invited by the legislators writing it to provide input on both technical matters and consumer protection issues. I am convinced that ASHI/MAHI inspectors are known and referred to by legislators as the standard in professional inspectors and are the go-to guys for information on what the state needs for home inspection licensing. The good news is HB 2057 will be used as the benchmark for any future bills that may be introduced for home inspection in the future, whether in 2009 or 2010.

It is always in our interest as professional home inspectors to be part of the process in both industry-wide professions and through the legislative process. Threats and boorish behavior from rogue inspection groups or cells are being red-tagged by legislators and leaders within our industry. I urge all inspectors to be part of the system and involved in the overall industry.

We are all proud of our industry and ASHI/MAHI inspectors in Missouri. Most inspectors who work in Missouri feel that not having a state home inspection license in place will have no effect on our businesses at all. We all feel proud that there is no hue and cry from the general public about the need to regulate the products and services we provide. Even the Realtors®, bankers, lawyers and home builders did not throw their weight, power and money behind home inspection legislation, despite the accusations by those who accuse ASHI/MAHI of being controlled by the Realtors®.

Harry O. Morrell
St. Louis ASHI immediate past-president
MAHI director

Allied Building Inspections, LLC


Jeff Barnes’ viewpoint on home inspection legislation in Kansas

Early 2003, HB 2100 was introduced by Representative Doug Patterson. This bill prevented inspectors from limiting the scope of their inspections or limiting their liability. This bill was slipped through the house before we found out about it, but was stopped before it made it through the senate.

Although we were able to get the bill stopped, we knew the bill would be brought up again the next year so we tried to begin a dialogue with Rep. Patterson (a trial lawyer) to determine his goals for the bill. During the initial discussion, we were told that he would be glad to talk with us, but he did not need to compromise because he could “get this bill passed how he wanted and when he wanted.” Needless to say, we didn’t waste our breath on future discussion with him.

We decided to develop a statewide association to bring one large dissenting voice to the capital the next year to fight the bill. To that end, the Kansas Association of Real Estate Inspectors was formed. In April of 2004 KAREI sent out 250 invitations to every inspector we could find in Kansas to come to our first statewide meeting. The goal of the meeting was to determine if the attendees wanted to continue playing defense and keep fighting bad legislation, or take a proactive stance and present our own bill.

The consensus was to continue fighting bad legislation, but also develop language we could use as a backup if we were forced to proceed with a bill of our own. At this same meeting we developed an outline that included basic goals for inspector protection and protections for consumers by establishing base line minimum competency requirements and liability limits.
  
In the next legislative season (2004 – 2005), we were able to kill HB 2100. This was not the end of the bill however. The language from this bill showed up again in HB 2269 and HB 2807 and in SB 334, an agritourism bill that didn’t make it out of committee. It was gutted and the HB 2100 language was stuck in. If all of this wasn’t enough, Rep. Patterson even tried to stick the language into a catch all omnibus bill at the end of the legislative session. Every shady trick he could think of he tried, but since the bill was so bad it had very little support with other legislators.

During our time at the capital working on this issue, we were told by many legislators that it was just a matter of time before we were regulated and as soon as an acceptable bill was presented it would be sent through quickly. The Kansas Association of Realtors (KAR) representative told us that he would be glad to sit down with us and work on mutually agreeable language for a bill, because he had been told by his organization that home inspector regulation was a priority. Working with us was much easier than working against us.
      
During the summer of 2005, we worked on language for our own bill, again with the intent that it would be a backup only and our main goal was to stop other legislation. Discussions with KAR were stopped as KAR’s governmental affairs director was activated into the National Guard and went overseas. In October of 2005, KAREI met to discuss the updated language and develop strategies to proceed.

Again the feeling was that we continue fighting against bad legislation and further refine our own bill. It should be pointed out that the feeling was not unanimous as there were some who thought we should keep on fighting forever and never give in. The downside to this, as expressed by the majority, was we can’t keep playing defense against a larger and better financed team forever and think that they will never score on us; sooner or later we are going to have to play offence.

During the 2005 – 2006 sessions, Rep. Patterson was no longer a threat as he did not run for reelection. Unfortunately, his bill was picked up by Rep. Paul Davis and the fight was on again. Fortunately, legislators were tired of seeing this same old bad bill, and after a discussion with Rep. Davis, he agreed to pull the bill to give us time to work on our own bill. Again, we were told by legislators that we needed to get off of the fence as they were itching for a good bill to support. We told Rep. Davis and other legislators we were working on language in concert with KAR and we needed time to develop workable language. We did not indicate that we already had our own bill as we were not yet ready to use it.

Over the summer, KAR changed its governmental affairs director, and Rep. Tom Sloan contacted him and took the language we had developed and presented it as his own to force our hand. We than began in-depth discussions with the new KAR governmental affairs director to make sure he knew who we are, what we stand for and what our industry is all about. We learned early on that the biggest problem we had with those who wanted to regulate us was a lack of understanding about the industry and the small business people that make up the industry.

The early going with the new KAR director was a little bumpy as he was new to the real estate industry and made a few mistakes in sending out communications that were poorly received by our members and his own. The first communications set a bad tone with some inspectors which they never out grew. This is a good leaning lesson: make sure you have good and meaningful communication lines open with all key stakeholders at all times. After these blunders I spent a lot of time discussing many, many topics with him, making sure he was up to speed and fully engaged in our needs not just the desires of his bosses. Kerry Parham and I met several times with him and others to insure they were working with us and no longer fighting against us.

During the 2006 – 2007 legislative sessions, our bill was stolen and reworked by Rep. Sloan who removed several favorable components and then presented it to the House in the Commerce and Labor Committee chaired by Rep. Steve Brunk. Rep. Brunk is a Realtor from Wichita and a friend to the inspection industry. He was very involved in the process and took an active role ensuring that the bill was thoroughly debated. The hearing process was extended from a few hours during one hearing to four different sessions before it was tabled for the season. That gave us the opportunity to finetune the language and answer questions brought up by legislators. We were on hand at every meeting and hearing making many long days and racking up a lot of miles. We felt it was very important to be face to face with those who want to regulate us rather than just allowing it to happen to us.

Over the summer, we met with many of the members of the Commerce and Labor Committee explaining the bill in detail and answering all of their questions. At our annual KAREI meeting, we updated our members on our activities and discussed the progress of the bill. The vote was unanimous to proceed pursuing the bill with a few minor adjustments in the language.

As the  2007 - 2008  season started, the bill was introduced January 31, passed out of the Commerce and Labor Committee with a unanimous vote on February 12 and was sent on the house floor for a vote. On February 20, the bill passed the full house with a vote of 80 to 38. Now it’s on to the senate to start the process all over.

We ran into problems right away in the senate due to issues with the committee chair. Sen. Brownlee did not want to create a new layer of government by developing the Home Inspection Registration Board. We later found out that one of her neighbors was an inspector opposed to the bill. Although he caused us problems in the beginning, Sen. Brownlee quickly saw him for what he was. She stripped the bill of nearly all of the consumer and inspector protections leaving it simply a registration act and tried to put us under the Board of Technical Professionals, which is governed mostly by engineers and architects. As you can guess, we fought this vigorously as did the lobbyist for the engineers and architects. They didn’t want us any more than we wanted to be with them.

Since that didn’t work, she then tried to put us under the control of the Secretary of State. The main problem with this is that to be under this office many of the benefits we gain in the bill would have to be stripped as the Secretary of State’s office is not a regulatory agency. She went ahead and sent the bill to the floor of the senate to debate the bill, and it passed on April 3 on a vote of 37 to 2. On April 4, I was in Topeka from 8:30 a.m. until adjournment at 9:30 p.m. attending meetings with the Secretary of State’s office, many key legislators and conference meetings that were intended to try to get the legislators to come to a meeting of the minds regarding the two versions of the bill (house and senate).

During these meetings, Rep. Brunk was fully aware that we were much opposed to the senate version and did not want the bill to go forward without the required inspector protections. He told me that he would support whatever position we took, and if the senate would not come around and accept the house version he would let it die. At our last meeting, which ended at 9:30 p.m., it was decided that we would try again to meet when the legislature reconvened after the spring recess.

During the process on the senate side, I had the opportunity to visit with Sen. Brownlee, the chair of the Commerce Committee and the individual holding up the bill. She confided in me that she and the committee had been inundated with e-mail and phone calls from a few inspectors in her district, one of which was a neighbor. She was finding that no matter what she did they weren’t happy. She also indicated that much of what they were saying was in contrast to what she was hearing from us and other supporters.

I explained the dynamic of the two sides of the issue and told her to simply do her own research. Compare the information presented by us and the other side to the actual language in the bill to see what makes sense. I explained that we don’t want to be regulated any more than the other group, but we understood that we had the opportunity to affect the direction of our industry rather than have it forced on us and their goal was simply to stop any legislation. Based on her comments, she was obviously becoming perturbed at the hostile, inflammatory and misleading tone in many of the e-mails she was receiving.

Over the recess, I sent informational updates to Senators Barone and Brownlee answering questions they had raised during previous meetings and providing additional detail about the benefits of the bill that had been stripped out under the senate version. The hope was that they would take this new information and determine that the cost of stripping the bill was greater than any benefit they thought they would gain from holding out for eliminating our stand-alone board.

After the recess, a conference committee meeting was held on May 1. That morning I had discussions with our lobbyist, KAR and Rep. Brunk solidifying our position and desire to hold our ground. We were all expecting to end the day with a dead bill. What happened next was a surprise. Senator Brownlee started the meeting by explaining that she had taken my advice, and over the recess she had done her own research rather than trust the information from either side.

What she found after reviewing current legislation from 29 different states was that the bill we had put together was very comprehensive, well thought-out and provided exactly what we said it did. Her careful and thoughtful review of the bill also brought to light the many inaccurate and misleading comments published by those opposed to the bill. This was reinforced during her presentation of the conference notes to the senate body Saturday, May 3 when she apologized to the entire body for the barrage of e-mail from constituents from her district, many of which were disrespectful and argumentative and in one case even threatening. Long story short, with only a few minor changes, the senate agreed to restore the house version and the final language passed the senate with a vote of 36 to 0 and the house with a vote of 98 to 22.

The final language is not perfect, nor is it all we wanted it to be; however, it has good strong language to support inspectors in Kansas and the clients we serve.

I want to extend a heart felt thank you for those who took an active interest in the bill and participated in trips to the capital or in sending e-mails to key legislators. Unlike many of those opposing the bill, you conducted yourselves as professionals and were respectful to the legislators in your personal conversations and correspondence. This made it easier for me to work for you.

We strongly support the right of those who oppose regulation to voice and effect a vigorous defense, but we would encourage those of you out there beginning this process to take the time to come to the table and voice your opinions at the start of the process rather than waiting until the end. In a majority rule society, those who stay home and don’t participate in the process will most likely always be unhappy with the result regardless of the side you fall on.

Thanks again for your support.

Jeff Barnes, president
Kansas Association of Real Estate Inspectors
ASHI Certified Member



Georgia Governor Purdue vetoed HB 1217

According to Governor Purdue:

“House Bill 1217 provides a regime to license Georgia’s home inspectors. I am cognizant and respectful of the fact that the advocates for the legislation chose to use and were approved by the Georgia Occupational Regulation Review Council (GORRC). I have come to believe that GORRC review should be the initial threshold for the creation of a new licensing board. I am also aware that the private sector provides several, voluntary professional organizations to achieve the goals of the legislation. It is my preference that the market — not the State — regulate as many of our industries as possible. Thus, in order to not supplant the good work of the free market with taxpayer funds, I VETO House Bill 1217.”

Here’s how former ASHI Director and ASHI Georgia leader Tore Knos saw it:

“The governor of Georgia vetoed the home inspector licensing bill. The bill is very close to the model bill that ASHI supports. This is the first time that I am aware of that a governor has vetoed a good home inspector licensing bill in the United States. There will probably not be another home inspector bill introduced until a new governor is elected. The governor recognizes the importance of private organizations in regulating the industry. The two organizations mentioned were ASHI and NAHI. ASHI is well recognized in Georgia and will now gain additional clout with this veto.”