Judiciary Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

HB-6983

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING THE ENFORCEMENT OF CERTAIN PROFESSIONAL AND OCCUPATIONAL LICENSING, CERTIFICATION AND REGISTRATION LAWS.

Vote Date:

4/13/2007

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable Substitute

PH Date:

2/5/2007

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Rep. Serra, 33rd District

REASONS FOR BILL:

Currently, the penalty for engaging in these provisions without a license is a $200.00 fine. The current penalty often leaves the state with little leverage to obtain restitution for consumer harm.

SUBSTITUTE LANGUAGE:

Added that criminal charges can be filed, the Commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) must determine that the work activity requires a license and is not a bona fide dispute between persons engaged in any trade or craft.

Made changes so that penalties shall not apply to any person who holds a contractor's license and engages in incidental work for which a different license is required, or engages in work that is not licensable and adds various activities, such as certain mill right work and certain carpentry work.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Commissioner Jerry Farrell, DCP -We administer occupational and professional licensing for a very broad variety of trades. Our rule is to license the practitioners by ensuring that they complete the competency requirements that are established by their respective examining boards. We also enforce the laws and regulations of each respective profession, through our own occupational and professional enforcement unit. We visit worksites. We ensure standards of conduct by the tradesperson. We do not determine building code compliance. DCP receives consumer complaints regarding all of those trades that we license. We undertake a review of the facts and we investigate potential violations of statute.

The nature of the complaints may include, for example workmanship, billing, misrepresentation or unethical conduct. Over the last two years, the DCP's four occupational and professional inspectors received close to 2,000 complaints, and of those 2,000 complaints, 398 contractors, or 20%, were found to be engaging in one of the trades without a license. This lack of standard competency in these unlicensed contractors truly puts Connecticut residents at risk.

This particular bill, which is the effort of a number of people representatives, SARA, members of the Chief State's Attorney's Office and our own Department, would assist the Department in its efforts to bring those unlicensed contractors into compliance.

The proposal would provide enforcement tools. When we complete an investigation involving the unlicensed contractor and forward that completed case to the appropriate board, we often find the final order and decision ignored by those found unlicensed. They have no intention of being licensed and they make no attempt to enter into compliance with our law. With the new criminal enforcement tool, it will be much easier to collect restitution for consumers. The proposal will send a very clear message to the rogue contractor that unlicensed activity will not be tolerated in Connecticut.

Richard Maloney, Director of Trade Practices, DCP-In the last five years, we've gone from 19,500 registered home-improvement contractors to 30,000. So there's been a marked increase in the registration, which is really what we're looking for. I think the bill amends within the scope of Chapter 393, so it is specific to those occupations, plumbing, electricians and the like. We're not looking generally at the unlicensed apprentice. We're taking the consumer complaint. We're conducting a thorough investigation, and we're bringing it forward to the Attorney General or the State's Attorney's Office.

Attorney General Blumenthal-This legislation increases the criminal penalty for the willful unlicensed work by repair and construction professionals. These professions include plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling, sheet metal, fire protection sprinkler systems elevator installation, repair and maintenance work, irrigation work, automotive glass work or flat glass work. The penalty would also apply to people who willfully employ such unlicensed professionals.

This bill makes the criminal penalty a class B misdemeanor with a criminal fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment up to 6 months.

This legislation will make the criminal penalties consistent with the home improvement act and the licensed professional statute.

Division of Criminal Justice-Currently, the DCP licenses a wide variety of trades. Licensing for a professional or occupational trade such as an electrician requires successful completion of an accredited school, job experience and strict examination on the subject trade, along with continuing education requirements; all aimed to ensure the competence of the applicant to correctly and safely perform work in the trade. The standards for trade licensing are justifiably high because incompetence in the trades can be a risk to persons or property. Professional and occupational trade licensing is the means through which the DCP watchguards the people of Connecticut from such risks.

Even though the requirements for professional and occupational trade licensing are obviously more stringent than those for home improvement contractor registration, the penalty section for violation of the home improvement contractor registration requirement is much stronger. The penalty for engaging in unregistered home improvement work is a class B misdemeanor pursuant to CGS Section 20-427. The penalty for engaging in unlicensed professional or occupational trades is a mere $200 fine (non-misdemeanor) pursuant to CGS 20-341 (a). Professional and occupational licensing violations should carry a penalty commensurate with the offense. Setting a penalty at least equal to the home improvement contractor registration penalty will make a statement to the unlicensed contractors in the State of Connecticut that we demand the competence of our professional and occupational trades, assured through the licensing program of the DCP.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

AT&T-Consistent enforcement of these requirements is in the best interest of both consumers and responsible service providers. While AT&T supports the intent of this bill, we are concerned that as presently drafted, the bill would provide for essentially automatic and serious penalties for licensing, certification or registration failures that are the result, not of malfeasance or pattern, but rather of good-faith error or omission.

In order to most effectively enforce the protections afforded by the licensing, certification and registration laws, AT&T encourages the Committee to include in the bill an exception to automatic penalties for technical violations that are the result of good-faith error or omission. In so doing, AT&T believes that enforcement will be better focused on true violations of the licensing, certification and registration laws.

We believe that an appropriate good-faith exception should be included to limit the penalties and consequences engendered by the bill to those persons and employers who knowingly fail to abide by licensing, certification and registration laws.

Joyce Wojtas, Mechanical Contractors & Plumers and Pipefitters, Local 77- There are thousands and thousands of hardworking people who have gone through apprenticeship training programs and who have taken a test to get a license to be able to earn a living.

Now these people also have to go either annually or every other year for continuing education in order to hold on to their licenses. There's a big problem out in the field these days and it's probably a little bit of infiltration of out-of-state contractors, although the cheaters are not all out-of-staters. There are many who are in-state. But something has to be done to increase enforcement in this whole arena. Otherwise, the whole idea behind licensing and the protection and the safety of the public goes out the window. And you might as well eliminate all these licenses, because in the long run, the cheaters seem to win out, because there is no real strong mechanism to be able to go after them. Jurisdictional disputes have gone on from the beginning of time.

I have worked for Connecticut Construction Industries Association for a number of years and was very much aware of disputes between laborers and plumbers, laborers and electricians, carpenters and sheetmetal people, and carpenters and plumbers.

To me that seems to be out of the purview of the licensing boards within the DCP, and probably when those cases do arise where there are legitimate jurisdictional disputes, that they should all be referred to the Labor Department to decide.

Many of the jurisdictions are established by collective bargaining agreements and shouldn't be handled by a licensing board that really should be concentrating on whether the person has a license. Has he done shoddy work under his license and should his license be revoked?

I think the building inspector should be encouraged to nail or go after those people who are unlicensed before the consumer has to suffer from the problem from work performed by unlicensed people. I don't know when it goes back to the municipality if the municipality directs it to the proper department within their municipality. The building inspector should play an important part in this in filing complaints with the licensing boards or DCP.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Glen Marshal, Business Manager, Carpenters Union, CT- In the construction industry, there are job tasks which are claimed and performed by multiple crafts. Disputes arise called jurisdictional disputes. In these situations, it is inappropriate for an innocent employee to face criminal charges as the building trades' state inspectors and licensing boards sort out these difficult situations and determine if the work is actually licensable or not.

Putting innocent employees in the middle of these disputes facing small civil penalties under the current law is inherently unfair. Making those employees subject to criminal actions is hard to justify by any means. I'll give you a few examples. What's going on out there the last few years, we have situations arising where some of the licensable trades are going to the enforcement officials in the DCP and trying to claim certain work that multiple crafts perform.

We have carpenters who are currently installing mirrors. The glaziers, who are licensed, are claiming that you need to have a license to put the mirrors up and therefore the carpenters can't perform that work. A more grievous one that we had was in Stamford on a treatment plant a couple of summers ago. The company who was performing the work in these sludge tanks used to have paddles to move the sludge around and the newer technology is an air grid. This grid is bolted and lined up to make sure it's level, usually performed by carpenters, millwrights, but not exclusively. After the work was performed, the licensing official, who happened to carry a book with one of the licensed trades, ruled that this work needed to be performed by the plumbers. The owner of the company had to hire an attorney and spend over $150,000 in legal fees to fight this. It was ultimately determined that the work was not licensable and it was okay to do. In the process, a lot of people were hurt, including some of the employees who weren't even on the job. The statute said that if a contractor is found to be not hiring the right licensed crafts to perform the work, that any of the licensed employees that work for him were held liable.

Reported by: Sarah E. Kolb

Date: 04/27/2007