State considers bill to license contractors

Posted Feb. 23, 2010, at 5:45 p.m.

A bill to license many contractors may become law in Maine. If that happens, our state would join 31 others that license those who build or renovate our homes.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bruce MacDonald, D-Boothbay, has a lot more momentum than previous licensing attempts in the Legislature. The Business, Research and Economic Development Committee already has held a work session and plans a second hearing on the bill.

One reason for the unusual second airing may be the amount of discussion the bill seems to be generating. While consumer advocates say the measure is clearly in consumers’ interest, some critics say an already soft building industry needs it like a left-handed hammer.

“Amazing” is the word used by John O’Dea, chief executive of the industry group Associated General Contractors of Maine. O’Dea says existing law requiring contracts on most larger jobs should head off most shoddy work.

But not all officials in builders groups agree. The leader of the Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of Maine was quoted recently as saying the concept of licensing contractors outweighs concerns over both short-term economic impacts and logistical concerns over implementation.

As with most legislation, this bill will go through lots of changes when and if it’s enacted into law. Already the effective date for licensing contractors has been moved back until Maine’s new universal building code takes effect this summer. Also, the sponsor has agreed licensing will be suggested, not required, for so-called “specialty” contractors, including framers and roofers.

There are still many points of contention over LD 272, especially surrounding the creation of a licensing board. As written, the bill would have the board collect fees and do testing to see who’s qualified.

Any fee issue creates sparks, and many builders bristle over the whole notion of testing. If they can refer to a code book and look up the way something should be done, many figure that’s the commonsense approach that works best.

We agree, if all builders and renovators agree to abide by those standards. We know there are many who do, just as we know there are some who don’t. It’s those who aren’t bashful about cutting a corner here and there we would like to see regulated.

If that means licensing everyone in the business, we would like to think industry leaders can help lawmakers find a way to do it fairly and affordably and without creating a huge bureaucratic monster. Some sort of licensing — whether based on testing or some other criteria — could help consumers find reliable builders when those consumers are not able to do their own investigating. It could also tell contractors throughout the state that their co-workers down the street are living by the same rules.

The second hearing on the bill is set for 1 p.m. Tuesday in the Cross Building in Augusta.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, or e-mail contacexdir@live.com.

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