Recently, Texas lawmakers struck a blow against the health and safety of its citizens when they failed to renew the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners. In failing to renew the board, they also abolished the Plumbing License Law. This casualty came about because the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners is subject to the Texas Sunset Act.
This failure to renew the plumbing board seems to be part of a political philosophy of “every man for himself” and the downsizing of government oversight. I have seen efforts by misguided politicians in the past, but this one takes the cake and it is very alarming.
The board has been subject to the Texas Sunset Act since its beginning. Periodically, the board was subject to expiration. In 2011, its existence was extended until Sept. 1, 2019. Interestingly, the Texas Sunset Act allows the legislature to continue a state agency for a period not to exceed 12 years.
There are many state agencies subject to the Sunset Act, and the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners is one of many subject to expiration on Sept. 1. However, it does not appear that the Electrical Safety and Licensing Advisory Board is subject to the Sunset Act, so there would still be licensing requirements for electricians.
Under the legislation, a review of the public need for the continuation of a state agency begins years before the scheduled expiration. It culminates in the Sunset Advisory Commission making a recommendation to the legislature and governor on whether to continue a state agency. It is my understanding that the advisory commission recommended the elimination of the plumbing board and its functions transferred to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR). However, the Texas legislature did not adopt this recommendation nor did it pass any other law renewing the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners.
So the board is abolished unless further legislative action is taken to correct this error. Under the Texas Sunset Act, the board will continue its operations for another year or until Sept. 1, 2020. The specific statutory section states:
“Sec. 1301.003. APPLICATION OF SUNSET ACT. The Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners is subject to Chapter 325, Government Code (Texas Sunset Act). Unless continued in existence as provided by that chapter, the board is abolished and this chapter expires September 1, 2019.”
“This chapter” refers to the Texas Occupations Code, Title 8 — Regulation of Environmental and Industrial Trades, Chapter 1301— Plumbers.
With respect to the question of whether to continue the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners, the Sunset Advisory Commission was required to consider the following. Whether the occupational licensing program serves a meaningful, defined public interest and provides the least restrictive form of regulation that will adequately protect the public interest. The extent to which the regulatory objective of the occupational licensing program may be achieved through market forces, private or industry certification and accreditation programs, or enforcement of other law. The extent to which licensing criteria, if applicable, ensure that applicants have occupational skill sets or competencies that correlate with a public interest and the impact those criteria have on applicants, particularly those with moderate or low incomes, seeking to enter the occupation or profession. The impact of the regulation, including the extent to which the program stimulates or restricts competition and affects consumer choice and the cost of services.
Licensing of Qualified Plumbers
Given the complex issues of water quality, safety and health of the public, there is a crucial role the plumbing board has for ensuring a model plumbing code adopted, and that plumbers are educated and qualified by a licensing exam. It is difficult to understand why the Sunset Advisory Commission would make a recommendation to transfer the functions of the board to the TDLR, which is a larger agency overseeing more than two dozen other professions.
Some of the criticisms of the board were that it required an applicant take the plumbing examination in Austin and that it took the board months to send a license after completion, whereas the TDLR estimated it could do it in a few weeks.
No matter these perceived minor inefficiencies of the board, it is an even more egregious lapse of the legislature to allow the Texas Plumbing License Law to expire. News stories discuss the many excuses given for not renewing this law; none keep in mind the health and safety of the public. Some reasons cited complaints by big-box retailers, who said they were forced to hire licensed plumbers to install water heaters, faucets and fixtures sold in their stores, causing long delays for the installation of the products they sell.
There also were reports by many contractors in the wake of recent hurricanes and floods, where rebuilding efforts were hampered because of a lack of licensed plumbers. Over the last few years, Texas has struggled with not having enough licensed plumbing contractors available following natural disasters requiring a substantial rebuilding effort.
In addition to abolishing the licensing laws that ensure a skilled workforce, the Texas legislature also flushed away the state plumbing code, which was selected and administered by the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners. No one seems to know what will happen next, but I suspect many major municipalities will still adopt and enforce plumbing codes. However, there will no longer be a state-wide plumbing code.
Soon, anyone can call themselves a plumber in Texas. In the past, you could not get a plumbing license without completing the board-required education program, and the written and practical testing requirements. Now, an influx of unqualified workers will soon be able to enter the workforce. Millions of people will be put into jeopardy if untrained and unlicensed persons are allowed to perform the job of a licensed plumber.
A water heater can be a bomb if the relief valve is not right. It can grow bacteria or scald someone if the temperature is not controlled correctly. It can cause carbon monoxide poisoning if the flue is installed wrong or if there is a plastic flue and no control to shut off the burner when the flue gas exceeds the maximum temperature rating of the flue pipe. A water heater can cause a fire if the flue is too close to combustible construction. And it can cause a gas explosion if the gas piping is not installed right.
This is setting a terrible precedent for states to start eliminating health and safety laws to protect the interests of a few that stand to gain financially. I expect the plumbing industry to push back hard on this issue.