Senate OKs home contractor regulation

The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would regulate home contractors, despite objections that the bill requires contractors to take a course that is thus bar only offered by the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of New Hampshire.

The home builders association has opposed efforts to license contractors in previous years, even as both consumer groups and the attorney general’s office cited rising complaints against contractors who did shoddy or incomplete work. But they signed on to a bill that requires continuing education — one that specifically mentions the association as a provider.

Sen. Bob Clegg, R-Hudson, a contractor himself who sided with the builders in opposing the legislation last year, this year sponsored an amendment to cut them out, calling the bill “special interest” legislation. Instead of writing the association into the law, it should give the board overseeing the certification a clean slate.

“Every trade group ought to be equal,” Clegg said.

But supporters of the bill beat back the amendment on a 13-10 roll call vote, saying that the association signed on to the deal in the spirit of compromise.

“All parties have given a little,” said Sen. Lou D’Alessandro, D-Manchester. “And we should stand behind a negotiated settlement.”

The bill then passed, 16-7, and was sent to the House, where it will undoubtedly face further scrutiny.

Kendall Buck, executive vice president of the association, who listened to the debate from the gallery, maintained that the association has always opposed licensing – or requiring some kind of test – but it has consistently insisted that quality continuing education be part of any registration legislation. The association has spent the last several years developing such a program, “and it makes perfect sense” that it be mentioned “just as one of the providers” that can offer such a program, he said.

In other legislation, the Senate passed a bill to its finance committee that would cut in half the threshold blood level in children that would trigger a lead inspection, and it would expand that inspection to every unit in the building. Supporters tacked on an amendment that gave more flexibility to landlords to take interim measures to abate lead in units without children under 6 – and putting more landlords on the commission overseeing the inspections- in order to mollify most critics.

“We are not blaming landlords,” said Sen. Iris Estrabrook, D-Durham. “They didn’t create the problem, but they own it.”

Sen. John Gallus, R-Berlin, spoke against the bill, saying that it was a “draconian” measure that placed an undue burden on property owners, and raised the prices of rental property. Other senators said the emphasis should be placed on screening, not abatement and inspection.

No one, however, wanted to go on record voting against getting rid of lead paint, so the measure passed on a voice vote.

The Senate also passed to the finance panel, on a 12-10 vote, a measure that would mandate insurance plans cover dependents under 25, whether they are students or not. Last year the Legislature passed “Michelle’s law” guaranteeing that right to part-time students.

“A young dependent working hard at an entry-level job with no health insurance is no less deserving of coverage than a college student whose family is probably in a much better position to afford it,” said Sen. Kathy Sgambati, D-Tilton.

But Sen. Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, said that the cost of such a mandate would simply be passed on to small businesses that are struggling to provide health insurance to their employees.

“At some point, the mandates have to stop,” he said.

The Senate also approved, without any debate or objection, three bills aimed at improving the state’s infrastructure for businesses.

The Senate first put $400,000 behind a workforce housing bill. Unlike previous measures, localities won’t be mandated to provide for affordable housing in their zoning plans, but those that do will get the carrot of state funding for their efforts. The approved bill cut in third the original $1.2 million sought, to match the Governor’s budget.

The Senate also expanded the state’s Telecommunications Planning and Development Advisory Committee to include broadband infrastructure.

Also approved was a bill that would expand an intellectual property business loan development program that would be overseen by the Business Finance Authority, with each loan approved by the governor and Executive Council. The state would guarantee 75 percent up to a maximum of $250,000 of the 10-year loans which will be secured by with patents, copyrights, computer software documentation or trade names. – BOB SANDERS

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