The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, November 01, 2013

Removing licensing for home lift work next target for GOP

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING – The “war on licensing” in the construction industry doesn’t stop with the electricians – the elevator industry has a battle going on, too.

House Bills 4970 and 4971 were both introduced to the House Regulatory Affairs Committee on Sept. 12, and both would lower licensing standards for the installation of residential lifts. They are tie-barred to each other, which means that neither bill can take effect unless both are signed into law.

The Regulatory Affairs committee approved both bills 9-6 along party lines on Oct. 15, with Republicans in favor and Democrats against. The bill was set to go before the full House of Representatives this week, with action in the Senate to follow.

Testifying before that committee was Dave “Shorty” Kuras, business manager of Elevator Constructors Local 36 and vice chairman of the state Elevator Safety Board. He said that while Michigan wants to do away with elevator licensing, other states are looking to institute more stringent rules.

“Other states are adopting licensing to make sure that any elevating device that moves people is installed correctly and to code by qualified people,” Kuras testified. “I know this because I have been contacted by them, and Michigan licensing rules are being used as a model for them. Why are we now trying to put the mobility impaired in danger by taking away licensing?”

House Bill 4970 would allow any contractor with a home builder’s license to install a residential vertical platform lift (like a wheelchair lift) or a residential stair climber (like a motorized chair attached to a wall next to a staircase) without any state oversight or licensing. The installer would have to be certified by the manufacturer.

Any installation of a residential or commercial elevator would continue to be governed under existing state law.

House Bill 4971, according to the House Fiscal Agency, would create an exemption for “residential lift contractors from having to meet the elevator journeyman licensing requirements of Public Act 333 of 1976.” That law requires a licensed elevator journeyman to perform the installation, alteration, maintenance, repair, servicing, inspecting, adjusting, or testing of an elevator.

Kuras said installation of the residential lifts represents only five to seven percent of the work performed by Local 36 members and their contractors. But the rest of the time, he said those elevator mechanics are doing work in the same industry – installing machinery that safely moves people up and down.

“The mobility impaired need these devices to have a somewhat normal life and should have the peace of mind that it was installed by a licensed contractor that employs licensed journeymen who do this for a living, not someone who occasionally puts one in,” Kuras testified.

Donald Purdie, vice president of Detroit Elevator Co. who is also a member of the state Elevator Safety Board, said existing laws “assures public safety to the greatest degree possible. He said existing rules insures that homeowners have inspected lifts installed in their homes, and that a dedicated, licensed journeyperson will do the work.

And Purdie added that there are important concerns about liability insurance – “have the installers approached their respective insurance carriers to make absolutely certain that these are ‘covered operations’ and not specifically excluded?” He said if not, it is possible that all of the liability burden could fall on an unsuspecting homeowner.

The proposed rules are part of an intensive push by state Republican lawmakers to do away with state regulations that some businesses call “burdensome.” Removing licensing from some electrical installations is in the works, and not far behind is expected “reforms” for other licensed crafts.

“I ask how has the current system failed,” Purdie said, referring to the proposed changes in the elevator industry. “What has so glaringly occurred that requires such a drastic revision of successful practices that have safeguarded the safety of the citizens of the State of Michigan?”