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Plumber Rally in Austin
Plumbers Converge on State Capitol in Austin

Last week thousands of Texas Plumbers converged on the State Capitol. The board that licenses plumbers in Texas was not renewed earlier when lawmakers closed the session failing to pass a bill to renew the current board the TSBPE – Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners, leaving thousands of Texas Master Plumbers, Journeymen and professional Drain Cleaners in limbo. At the last minute, Governor Gregg Abbott issued an executive order to keep it going.  This is good news for plumbers and the general public but it’s really a temporary fix. Mike Duncan with Duncan Plumbing Solutions in Waxahachie states, “Governor Abbott issued pretty much a delay from the plumbing board, instead of fixing the problem by calling a special session.”

Some lawmakers in the house felt it was more appropriate for plumbing to be managed by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR). I couldn’t help but notice the TDLR stamp on the elevator I was on while in Austin for the rally. Hummmmm, the same agency that regulates the safety of every elevator in Texas is going to also regulate the entire plumbing industry?

The TDLR provides oversight for a broad range of occupations, businesses, facilities, and equipment. They oversee everything from Barbeque to Behavior Analysis; from laser hair removal to licensed dog breeders. You can read more about TDLR on their website here: https://www.tdlr.texas.gov/about.htm

Formed in 1947, the mission of the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners (TSBPE) is to protect Texas citizens against the health and safety hazards that can result from improperly installed plumbing, gas, and medical gas systems.  Under the current system, it takes 8 years for a Master Plumber to obtain his accreditation.

The TSBPE administers and enforces Chapter 1301 of the Texas Occupations Code (Plumbing License Law). The agency’s main functions can be separated into four categories: examination, licensing, enforcement, and administration.  The TSBPEs sole business is regarding the requirements of the Plumbing License Law and rules adopted by the Board, and the dangerous conditions that can arise from improperly installed plumbing. You can read more about the TSBPE here: https://tsbpe.texas.gov/


Plumbers Marching on Texas Capitol in Austin

A report to the Sunset Commission recommended changes to the current system to speed up the process of obtaining various certifications. People are waiting months just to sit for an exam. Some call the current system “outdated” and including much “unnecessary paper exams and practical exams”.  The agency is underfunded. It seems lawmakers thought if the TSBPE can’t get it right, we’ll appropriate another agency that will. But is this the answer?


Change is Inevitable
Change is Inevitable

What will all this ultimately mean for affordable plumbing? The bill would delay the transfer of plumbing regulation to TDLR until no later than September 1, 2020 and this analysis assumes the regulatory operation costs will continue at TSBPE until that date. Abolishing TSBPE would result in General Revenue of $2,893,085 in fiscal year 2021, $2,656,177 in fiscal year 2022, and $2,154,302 per fiscal year thereafter. These amounts include one-time costs for computer equipment, rent, and furniture for the new FTEs at TDLR, vehicle fleet maintenance, salaries and benefits for the 28.0 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions to operate the plumbing program at TDLR, and technology costs.

According to Sunset staff analysis, the elimination of the drain cleaner, drain cleaner-restricted, and residential utilities install registrations would result in a revenue loss of approximately $41,800 per fiscal year to the General Revenue Fund—not much of a loss. Replacing the master plumber designation with a plumbing contractor license could result in an increase of revenue as additional persons would be eligible to obtain licensure – i.e. anyone could be a plumber.  In this case, they say ‘the overall effect on revenue cannot be determined’. This bill would open up licensure to anyone tradesman or handy man and gain more revenue in the short term. Fees related to reciprocity and temporary licenses, endorsements, and certificates of registration would be set by TDLR and the effect on revenue cannot be determined.

According to Sunset staff analysis of contracts currently held by the plumbing board, certain contracts established by and for the plumbing board would no longer be required at TDLR. This is alarming, says Erica Duncan of Duncan Plumbing Solutions in Waxahachie. What does this mean for the health and general safety of plumbing systems like clean water and sanitary sewer systems?

Mike Duncan, Master Plumber at Duncan Plumbing Solutions
Mike Duncan, Master Plumber at Duncan Plumbing Solutions

TSBPE currently performs criminal background checks on applicants; however, these background checks do not meet the fingerprint and FBI requirements of the bill.  So the TSBPE adds fingerprint and background checks? How easy is that? The proposed bill would require applicants and licensees to pay for the cost of the fingerprint background checks through the Department of Public Safety’s (DPS). This would generate an additional nearly 1.5M in the first year and 1,712,995 in the year 2021. Of this amount, $682,166 would be remitted to the FBI and $1,030,829 would be retained by DPS to offset costs associated with providing background checks.

This bill would amend Chapter 1301 of the Occupations Code to implement Sunset Commission recommendations regarding the TSBPE and transfer the regulation of plumbers to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) no later than September 1, 2020. The bill would abolish TSBPE and establish the Texas Plumbing Advisory Board to provide recommendations to TDLR regarding the administration of this chapter. The bill would eliminate the drain cleaner, drain cleaner-restricted and residential utilities installer registration and would eliminate the master plumber designation and replace it with a plumbing contractor license.  Change is needed but this would be like the pendulum swinging grossly in the opposite direction,  says Erica Duncan of Duncan Plumbing Solutions.


Change Sure to Come

Romans 8:28 God works all for the good for those called according to His purpose. Maybe this short of shake up is needed to bring awareness to the many areas needing improvement.  It remains to be seen how this will all shake out but one thing we want to see is the pendulum will settle on some middle ground that incorporates some of the suggested changes but keeping the current board in place while improving the current systems, long wait times to sit for the exam, paper exams, funding, and other antiquated systems which are in place currently with the TSBPE. We are hoping the pendulum settles on some middle ground where this industry is protected and that the swing settles on a change for the better. Sometimes it takes a shake-up for real, positive change to take place. We’re hoping and praying that is exactly what happens to the TSBPE.

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