By Todd Smith | The Caledonian Record
Rep. Scott Campbell, D-St. Johnsbury, is well on his way to his longtime goal of putting sweeping controls and penalties on Vermont’s building contractors and the homeowners they serve.
Campbell’s two most important bills in the previous session of the House were “creating a state enforcement mechanism for building energy standards and minimum competency requirements for building contractors” (H.534); and blocking the sale of a single-family residence not certified as being in compliance with strict energy standards (H.719).
Neither of these bills moved forward, but Campbell is back with a version “to create a framework for registering construction contractors.” This is offered as a way for the state to supply useful information and assistance to the contractors and their customers.
Rep. Mark Higley, himself a contractor in Lowell, sees through it. He says that “registration is de facto licensing, which will lead to higher costs and fewer contractors.”
H.157 leads with a requirement that “a person shall register with the Office of Professional Regulation prior to contracting with a homeowner to perform residential construction in exchange for consideration of more than $2,500, including labor and materials.” That means “to build, demolish or alter a residential dwelling unit, or a building with four or fewer residential dwelling units,” in Vermont and “includes interior and exterior construction, renovation, and repair; paving, roofing, weatherization, installation or repair of heating, plumbing, electrical, water or wastewater systems”…. and whatever else the Office of Professional Regulation adds later by fiat.
The bill says mandatory registration is not licensure, but failure to register is an “unauthorized practice.” There are 26 varieties of “unauthorized practice” already in the law, and violations of any of them call for a $5,000 fine. There is a $50 fee in 2023, to offset the cost of the two new employees needed to administer the mandatory registrations, and presumably chase down non-compliers.
We don’t think there’s any doubt these bills lead directly to mandatory licensing; compulsory energy standards; a bureaucratic apparatus for determining contractor competency; blocking the sale of homes until they have hired a licensed contractor to make homes conform to high standards; and added expense for homeowners and taxpayers.
We think this is all way too much government. It will raise costs to build, reduce contractors, and impose legal jeopardy on the few who remain. It will entangle contractors in the threatening grasp of yet more state bureaucrats, and it insults the idea that free people have enough sense to choose their own contractors and get what they bargained for.
H.157 has emerged from committee and will soon be voted upon in the House. It’s a good time for homeowners and builders to tell their legislators that they can see where this is heading, and they’d prefer not to go.
Todd M. Smith is the publisher of the Caledonian Record, where this editorial first appeared. He lives in St. Johnsbury.