Bills Built: Measures to Create New Licensure System for Contractors Proposed for 2007 Legislature

Article excerpt

Builders in Oklahoma could see a major change in the way business is done next year if two bills to create a new licensure system are made law.

Though some contractors had fought efforts to create such a licensure system in the past, draft bills proposed for the 2007 legislative session have the blessing of - and contain input from - representatives of the construction industry. Builders say a licensure system wouldn't just help the consumer but would bring a real financial benefit to those in the business.

"This is a huge step for Oklahoma in improving quality and protecting the consumer," said Sen. Harry Coates, R-Seminole, who will carry the two bills in the Senate.

Coates was chairman of a task force made up of both commercial and residential builders from across the state assigned to study the licensure issue. The group produced two draft bills to create a system in Oklahoma using Arkansas' law as a model.

While electrical, mechanical and plumbing contractors and building inspectors are required to obtain a license in Oklahoma, there is no licensing requirement for builders. A few efforts in past years to create a contractor licensing system in Oklahoma haven't gotten very far in the Legislature.

"There has been a certain amount of resistance by contractors, particularly the small businesses in rural areas," said Coates. "Maybe they don't feel their operation is sophisticated enough to need licensure. Some may have been in business for 50 years as the hometown builder and feel the industry has done well at policing itself and they don't need some agency in Oklahoma City to tell them if they're qualified."

However, that attitude appears to have lessened in recent years, as unqualified and/or unscrupulous builders have presented an increasing problem in the industry, particularly in the residential market. Aside from routine home renovation projects, Oklahoma's tornado season and wildfires have produced plenty of residential construction work.

The horror stories about contractors who have run off with a down- payment or even full payment in advance, after producing shoddy work or no work at all, have legislators, consumers and members of the construction industry concerned. The task force heard from several members of the public who have been burned by a contracting deal gone awry. Even the director of building services for the city of Edmond, Ed Steiner, shared his bad experience in getting his home remodeled.

Mark Dale of Carriage Homes, who also serves as vice president of the Oklahoma Home Builders Association, said he's spoken with contractors licensed in multiple states who say they make more money in the states that require licensure.

"I think it raises the standard," said Dale. "In the long run, it will make it easier to do business by eliminating the bad competition, keeping the fly-by-nights from competing."

Licensure has helped contractors in Arkansas, said Greg Crow, chief legal counsel for the Arkansas Contractor Licensing Board. Arkansas has required licensure for commercial builders since 1949 but only created a licensure program for residential builders in 1999. …