Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/15/2004 01:30 PM Senate L&C
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 377-STATE MECHANICAL CODE CHAIR CON BUNDE announced SB 377 to be up for consideration. MR. ZACK WARWICK, staff to Senator Therriault, sponsor, said there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about this bill. All it does is grant the adoption authority for the Mechanical Code to the Department of Labor. It does not change the code from one brand to the other. It simply grants the adoption authority to the department since historically there has been no statutory adoption authority.... In addition, it does not change the way the plan inspections or building inspections are done. The Department of Public Safety will still be doing the plan inspections with regard to fire and life safety issues. The Department of Labor will still do all post-building inspections in regards to mechanical, plumbing and electrical codes. That's exactly what's been going on for years. The bill simply recognizes that the mechanical code and the plumbing code are closely related because nearly all mechanical contractors are also plumbing contractors. Given this relationship and regardless of which code is adopted, it makes more sense to have these two closely related codes coordinated within one single agency. It comes down to basically a policy call by the Legislature... CHAIR BUNDE asked if he thought it was possible to alleviate some of the misunderstanding. "What can we do to lower the level of anxiety this bill seems to have created?" MR. WARWICK replied that he has received calls from a number of different industry groups, Associated Builders and Contractors as well as the International Code Council. The letter from the Council does not support SB 377, but it was completely unaware of what the bill really does. It is being put where all family codes will receive a fair hearing. He added that he didn't think it was possible to clear up the misconceptions. MR. JEFF ROBINSON, Cliff's Mechanical, Anchorage, opposed SB 377. His understanding is that the underlying intent of the legislation is to bring back the Uniform Mechanical Code (UMC) just to appease a minority group of contractors. MR. ROBINSON said he is also a member of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers and out of all the people he has spoken to, no one supports it. MS. VICKI STERLING, private consultant in the design community, opposed SB 377 saying it is a life safety issue, which belongs in the Department of Public Safety. MR. CRAIG STEPHENSON, International Code Council, opposed SB 377. He has read the actual bill, which has very generic language. He is concerned that it is just a way to undo codes that have been adopted. He urged, "What we need to be doing is taking a very thoughtful look at how codes are adopted in the State of Alaska that serves Alaska the best." MR. ERNIE HETRICK, design professional, opposed SB 377. He thought all codes should be adopted by the same group so they can be considered together. MR. KELLY NICOLEILLO, Department of Public Safety, said he was available to answer technical questions. MR. DALE NELSON, President, Alaska Professional Design Council, said he sent the committee a letter dated April 13 stating its concerns. He added one more concern - that there is no stated fiscal impact resulting from changing departments. MR. JOHN KNABE, Training Director, UA Local 375, Plumbers and Pipefitters Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee, said he is also chair of the City of Fairbanks Plumbers Examining Board and that all members support SB 377. We feel it is a good compromise and will address the current situation we have of having two different codes that aren't in harmony with each other, published by two separate organizations and adopted and administered by two separate state departments. This fragmented approach is problematic and responsible for a great amount of frustration and cost to the necessary training and certification in our industries. We have a very good working relationship with the State Department of Labor. SB 377 will benefit the public and our industry by insuring coordination of the plumbing and mechanical codes. MR. JIM LAHTI, Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 375, said it trains and maintains a significant workforce to the standards of the Uniform Plumbing Code. "To help maintain consistency, it's only logical that both the mechanical and the plumbing codes should fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor." MR. RODNEY BROWN, Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 375, supported SB 377. MR. RANDY BAYER supported SB 377. I believe to have both the mechanical code and the plumbing code under the Department of Labor would facilitate the enforcement and oversight that this code provides for the citizens of the State of Alaska. MR. DAVID PEET, Fairbanks resident, supported SB 377. It just seems to me that these two codes are related to our industry and if they are, they should fall under the jurisdiction of one department. MR. DENNIS MICHAEL, President and owner, American Mechanical, thought SB 377 would give the public a better quality product. There really is no inspection on the jobsite because the Department of Labor has no authority to look at mechanical systems when they are already on the job site looking at plumbing systems.... MR. DAYN COOPER, Chandler Plumbing and Heating, supported SB 377 for the reasons already stated. MR. MARK ANDERSON, Construction Manager, Chandler Plumbing and Heating, supported SB 377 for all the previously stated reasons. MR. BILL SAGER, Executive Director, Mechanical Contractors of Fairbanks, said his members unanimously support SB 377. "We feel that since our members have to work under both codes, it just makes sense for them to be administered out of one department." MR. CHUCK DEERDON, Ketchikan Building Inspector, said he also is representing the State Homebuilder's Association. The Homebuilder's Association opposed SB 377. One of the reasons is that the IMC, which a lot of municipalities have adopted, includes the International Mechanical Code as part and parcel of that. From the city perspective, the interlocking of the International Fire Code, the International Building Code and the International Mechanical Code are pretty important and they go to the State Fire Marshall's office for review. I think the system isn't broken, but I think it could be improved and if you don't mind, I'd like to offer a suggestion. That would be that the Governor's Office could possibly get the State Fire Marshall's Office, which is on the same level as the Department of Labor, and get a letter of understanding [so]...one of the state plumbing inspectors can go out and also do mechanical inspections. The State Fire Marshall's Office can still do the plan review including the life safety issues and then we can tailor the codes to encompass the training for the mechanical and plumbing contractors. But, at this point, I don't think that the issue of the Fairbanks - and I understand their issues on the Mechanical Plumber Contractor's Union - I think they have a valid point that the training could be done better and that they could possibly mix the codes so that things could work for them.... CHAIR BUNDE agreed with him. MR. STEVE SHOWS said he would speak on his own behalf. He said he has 35 years in the construction industry, 25 years have been in the State of Alaska regulating construction for municipal, borough, state and federal government. He opposed SB 377 primarily because it doesn't address the big picture issue, which is the safety of Alaskans in a built environment. I think there are things related to this topic that Alaskans do agree on. Number one, the State of Alaska does not have an effective construction regulation environment. It just doesn't exist. I believe it is evident that our municipal governments, each and every one of them...they do have an effective way of administering these regulations without conflicts in a coordinated manner. So, I think we have a roadmap that the State of Alaska may look to to see how can we get out of this quagmire, move forward as a team, because, trust me, building a major building takes a team; it takes qualified licensed individuals on the job doing the work. It takes a knowledgeable set of people reviewing plans and all the nuances and intricacies those plans have to provide the safety that codes require. Codes need to be reviewed and adopted by impartial technically proficient individuals - as many of them as you can find working together. Beyond that, as Reagan said, trust, but verify.... So, I leave you with that thought that things are working well in the plan review area of coordinated technically adopted codes in public safety. There is no effective field inspection by the Department of Labor and I can tell you that for a fact. If a non- union contractor gets a bid, I may see the state labor inspector in my town checking up on him. These partisan interests are understandable. Economic self- sufficiency is a human drive that's very important, but we need to understand that and not adopt codes that limit new technology and material to the financial benefit of a small group of contractors to the detriment of the people of the State of Alaska who look to their legislature and representatives to help them get the biggest bang for the buck. Life safety is important. We're probably one of the most seismically active areas on the world; fire, loss of life is not something to be swallowed over without the best effort that we can bring to bear to address it. CHAIR BUNDE said, "That best effort, then, would be for folks to forget their turf battles and work together?" MR. SHOWS replied, "You got it. My personal opinion is to consolidate these construction regulations in one department...." [END OF SIDE A] TAPE 04-32, SIDE B MR. SHOWS continued: I've seen the Department of Labor do their best effort and it falls short and it's one-sided. That's my personal opinion. SENATOR SEEKINS asked how much inspection of the mechanical work is done by the Department of Public Safety (DPS). MR. SHOWS answered that the DPS reviews plans, but does no field inspection work that he knows of. MR. MAX MIELKE, Business Manager, Plumbers and Pipefitters UA Local 262, said he is also president of the Alaska State Pipe Trades Association, which represents over 1,000 members who install mechanical systems every day for mechanical contractors in Southeast. They all strongly support SB 377. He thought the issue is basically between the mechanical contractors, the people who install the mechanical systems and the building officials. I want to say one thing in my closing statement. The IMC is not a consensus code. Only government building officials are on the review committee when it comes to the International Code Committee whereas under the Uniform Mechanical Code, there's a balanced committee for all industries involved in putting mechanical contractors and building officials.... CHAIR BUNDE said he wasn't going to move the bill today and a lot more people wanted to testify. He wanted to go through the list and have people say yes or no on whether they support SB 377. MR. ROBERT BUCH, Local 367, supported SB 377. MR. GARY HILE, Anchorage, supported SB 377. MR. HARRY DEVASCONCELLES, Alaska Oil and Gas Association (AOGA), opposed SB 377. MR. GREG MOORE, NANA/Colt, Anchorage, opposed SB 377. MR. PAT KNOWLES said he is not a union member and supported SB 377. MR. FRANK KAPILARI, Knik Plumbing, said he represents the non- union side of this and supports SB 377. MR. COLIN MAYNARD, BBFM Engineers, opposed SB 377. MR. CRAIG HATELY, Local 367, supported SB 377. MR. STEVE MILLER, Plumbers Local 3673 ATC, supported SB 377. CHAIR BUNDE thanked everyone for their brevity and said he would sit on the bill for a while to see if a proper consensus would arise. SENATOR SEEKINS said for the record: I [was] co-chair of the Safety Code Task Force last summer with Representative Dahlstrom. I've spent several hundred hours on this matter. I think I'm spun up about just as much on where the turf war is on any of it. The one thing that I want to say for consideration at this point is that under the current system there is no inspection by the Department of Public Safety on mechanical applications as they're applied in the field. Once it's done, it's not inspected; it's only a plan review. As I understand, this bill would not eliminate the plan review from [the Department of] Public Safety. That is a safety issue that continues in place. But, there is the matter now that an inspection process would have to take place from the Department of Labor just as they're supposed to do. They may not in all cases, but they're supposed to do it and they're tasked to do it on the plumbing. So, it appears to me...as I looked at the review from the Safety Code Task Force that in order to put in place the mechanism that we came to some consensus should exist in the overall safety code system in the State of Alaska, that it's going to take some time to design it out and work with the different departments and try to put in place, because of the autonomy of the cities - Juneau, Anchorage, Fairbanks - where they have their own department. The code then applies to pretty much the rest of the state except that it's a minimum code that those cities have to meet and if there's any waiver from that, they have to get approval. What the co-chair and I said was that it seems logical that in the long run that we should at least have some kind of inspection of the mechanical and plumbing on the same level at the same time and that it seems that most mechanical contractors are also the plumbing contractors on the job. So, to have some uniformity that would be simple, let's just change the administration of this code from here to here. There is no, as one person said or alleged, no known underlying intent from any member of the Legislature to try to favor one group or the other, but there is an intent to make sure that we have an efficient operation that also involves inspection of the completed work as well as just plan review. We think that that's best, in the long run, serves the public interest and the safety of the people in the State of Alaska.... CHAIR BUNDE reiterated that he would hold the bill and hoped time would build a consensus.