Licensing Texas plumbers remains a touchy subject heading into the legislative session

Published: Jan. 22, 2021 at 9:49 PM CST
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COPPERAS COVE, Texas (KWTX) - The question of who will license the state’s nearly 60,000 plumbers — and make sure they are fully trained — remains an open one headed into the legislative session.

Last session, the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners was scheduled to be abolished by the Texas Sunset Commission, the agency responsible for making recommendations to improve state agencies.

“The plumbing board’s serious, ongoing problems and reticence to change no longer meets the expectations of the state or the growing demands of the industry,” the Sunset Commission wrote in its 2019 report.

The report cited “backlogged exams with more than 1,400 individuals waiting to take exams” and “poor customer service” as key reasons the agency should be abolished.

It recommended transferring the regulation of plumbing to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

That did not happen because of disagreement among state lawmakers, and there was no bill passed to extend the agency’s operations.

As the agency was set to be abolished, Gov. Greg Abbott extended its life via an executive order until 2021.

Now, this session, state lawmakers will again have to decide what to do with the agency.

“Best case scenario, they get it together,” said W.B. Maples, the president of Cove Plumbing, Inc. in Copperas Cove.

“If not, we end up being moved to a different agency possibly,” he said.

However, he said that licensing plumbers — whoever does it — is a “necessity.”

“Would you like a carpenter working on your natural gas system? I wouldn’t,” Maples said.

Industry leaders, plumbers and other groups have worked with state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, to draft House Bill 636.

The bill responds to the issues raised by the Sunset Commission last session.

It would allow for online testing so that plumbers would not have to travel to Austin — a key factor in the backlog of licenses.

It would also set up an online database or a toll free number for the public to browse disciplinary actions against plumbers and require plumbers seeking licenses to submit their fingerprints for background checks.

Leonard Aguilar, the political director of the Southwest Pipe Trades Association, told KWTX that the bill’s supporters are still looking for a sponsor in the Texas Senate.

He said he remains hopeful that the bill will pass this session but acknowledged that lawmakers will have their hands full working on many other policy priorities, especially amid the pandemic.

If the bill does not pass, Chap Thornton, the business manager of Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union 286 said he suspects cities will take licensing into their own hands.

“Your major cities will pick up regulatory authority over plumbing installations,” Thornton said.

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