The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 22, 2016

After Flint, they want to weaken plumbing laws?

By The Building Tradesman

Editor's note: a public hearing was held March 17 before the Michigan House of Representatives' Committee on Workforce Talent and Development that would loosen rules on worker licensing standards. House Bill 5435 would amend the State Plumbing Act, and would seemingly only affect water heater licensing.

But Cynthia Maher, executive director of the Michigan Plumbing and Mechanical Contractors Association, testified that the way the bill is written, the language removing licensing for "modification to an existing hot and cold water distribution supply" could easily lead to non-licensed workers installing pipe as it goes into a house. Furthermore, legally, "you could easily re-pipe an entire house" under this proposal, she testified, without a state plumbing license.

Similarly, electricians are upset with companion House Bill 5436, which is ostensibly about loosening standards for installing low-voltage residential work. But the language is so poorly written that it could allow unlicensed electricians, or anyone else, to work on high-voltage systems.

Both bills are still in the committee.

By Kim Glas
Executive Director
BlueGreen Alliance

We believe that when we turn on the faucet, clean, safe drinking water should come out of the tap and that policymakers should have our best interests at heart by making sure the water we drink does not poison us or cause us harm in any way. We believe that our elected officials have an obligation to ensure our basic infrastructure systems, including water and wastewater systems, don’t fail us or our children.

The Flint water crisis has shaken the fundamental faith in government at every level because they failed to ensure the safety of the systems we rely on every day. To win back that faith here in Michigan, lawmakers need to come together to find effective, real-time solutions to repair and replace our failing infrastructure with a safe system that stands the test of time.

We need a national effort to repair and replace pipes leaching lead into the water in Flint and many other cities, and it should be obvious that these repairs must be made in the safest way possible by highly skilled workers. That’s why it is absolutely shocking that Republican lawmakers in Lansing are actively working to weaken the protections that will ensure the work needed to fix the water system in Flint is done right the first time.

Specifically, HB 5435 – supported by Reps. Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway Twp.), Roger Victory (R-Hudsonville) and Robert VerHuelen (R-Walker) would weaken Michigan’s plumbing license requirements – essentially allowing untrained workers to perform critical functions that impact the safety of our basic systems. This bill would apply not just in Flint, but in all of Michigan.

This proposal only adds insult to injury. Could there be anything worse than having the public exposed to an even greater harm in the midst of a public health crisis because ill-advised legislators are trying to strip out basic safety requirements from a long-standing plumbing licensing law that works well and serves the public interest? The people who install water systems need to be licensed; it is the safest option for the public. We need skilled, trained workers installing and maintaining our water, fire protection, and heating and cooling systems; workers who will build long-lasting infrastructures to ensure the health of our families and communities.

The citizens of Michigan deserve clean, safely delivered water. Weakening plumbing licensing laws virtually guarantees that those with the least amount of training and experience will do the work, exposing the public to even greater harm, and costing taxpayers a lot more down the road when the work is not done right the first time. Flint is the result of a series of terrible decisions by policymakers at all levels, months of cover-up and a failure to accept responsibility until it was too late. It is inescapable that thousands of Flint children will suffer life-long consequences due to their exposure to high levels of lead. We need to maintain basic protections that will ensure public health and safety in Flint and across the state.

HB 5435, proposed by Reps. Lauwers, Victory and VerHuelen, is the exact opposite of good public policy and is the wrong way to go about rebuilding trust in water and other basic systems. Simply put, it is a terrible idea. This legislation should be immediately withdrawn. If not, it should be quickly defeated.

(The BlueGreen Alliance, is a partnership of labor unions and environmental organization "that works to turn today’s biggest environmental challenges into our biggest economic and job-creating opportunities").