ABC Opposes Plumbing Licensure Legislation As Support Falls Short

By: Brent Sailhamer, Director of Government Affairs

For nearly a decade, the Pennsylvania legislature has grappled with the goal of ensuring safety and welfare by providing regulatory oversight of the construction industry. Incidents like the 2013 building collapse in Philadelphia that killed six people and left fourteen injured have served as fodder for those who push for industry licensure and higher standards. This year, the House has renewed attempts at passing comprehensive plumbing licensure as a first step, but even with overwhelming Republican majorities, that task could be more difficult than ever.

House Bill 442, introduced by Rep. Jim Christiana (R-Beaver) began earlier this year as a bill that regulated the use of the title “licensed plumbing contractor.” Rather than regulating the entire practice of plumbing, the bill only set standards for individuals who held themselves out as a licensed plumbing contractor. The bill establishes a State Board of Licensed Plumbing Contractors, charged with setting standards for licensed individuals and meting out penalties on those who violate the standards set in place.

While legislation licensing plumbing contractors has traditionally sailed through the Senate by an overwhelming majority, the House has consistently refuted such an attempt, never moving construction industry licensure. Until now.

Late last week, the House Professional Licensure Committee voted out House Bill 442 with a critical amendment that changed the scope of the bill. The amendment included oversight of the terms master plumber, journeyman plumber, and apprentice plumber. While on its face, these terms might not have a profound effect, many municipalities currently maintain ordinances that require a master plumber to do permitted work. Under these circumstances, a master plumber must be licensed, meaning the bill now would regulate the practice of plumbing.

This week, the House made an effort to push the bill through, scheduling a final vote on HB 442 on Tuesday, just four days after the initial vote on the bill. But things didn’t go as planned. As the bill was laid out for discussion in preparation for the final vote, it became readily apparent that there were issues. Conservative Republicans voiced their opposition to the bill due to its strict oversight over private enterprise, while Philadelphia Democrats also spoke out against the bill because of the harsh penalties it imposed. “Here we are, trying to encourage more participation in the skilled trades,” said Rep. Curtis Thomas (D-Philadelphia), “and this bill does the exact opposite. For that reason, I am a no.” After several speakers voicing strong opposition, Majority Leader Dave Reed waived off, tabling the bill.

While the bill’s sponsor continues to seek a path forward for his legislation, the five chapters of ABC in Pennsylvania, collectively known as ABC PA, oppose the bill.