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Council may tweak professional licensing policies

City Council may make modest changes — at most — to ordinances and policies that govern the licensing of electricians and plumbers, after trades representatives met with council members recently and argued generally for the status quo — and against relaxing licensing criteria.

“Why try to fix it if it’s not broken?” asked retired union electrician Bob Kutz, president of the Blair-Bedford Central Labor Council, a position supported by Councilman Bruce Kelley. “Lower our taxes, not our standards,” Kutz said.

Council has discussed the possibility of changes periodically over the past year, after a practicing plumber from Duncansville was prohibited from taking a master’s test because he hadn’t served for two years as a journeyman.

One of council’s aims has been to increase the number of tradesmen, to encourage competition and reduce costs for residents.

Some of the changes that council may ultimately enact will have originated as suggestions from the tradesmen who have been involved in some of the discussions.

Both tradesmen and council members seem to agree that it makes sense that clearly qualified tradespeople who may still be lacking in some non-essential requirement should be able to take the master’s test.

“So that the rules are fair for them,” said Councilman Dave Butterbaugh.

But the sides also seem to agree that it makes sense to keep the bulk of the experience requirements for licensing intact: currently, four years as an apprentice before testing to become a journeyman, then two years as a journeyman before testing to become a master — rather than reducing the experience requirement for apprentice from four years to one, as council has proposed.

There’s value in making experience requirements “cut and dried,” to avoid contention, said plumber Jim Riley.

It’s not clear whether council is likely to add credit for relevant vo-tech and military experience for those seeking licenses, or whether the tradesmen would accept such changes.

It’s also not clear whether council or the tradesmen accept the idea of a provisional license for those whose qualifications may be in doubt, even after successful completion of a test.

Such a license could turn into a permanent one after a designated number of jobs that pass inspection, City Manager Ken Decker suggested.

The sides seem to agree that it makes sense to restore a hands-on component for testing, as the tradesmen recommended.

That would help ensure against a license earned by someone who simply studies a book, but lacks the necessary experience, tradesmen argued.

“Anybody can pass an exam if they’re good at testing,” said Stu Sellers, one of approximately 25 electricians who attended the meeting.

The sides seem to agree that trade experts should continue to occupy the seats of the licensing boards — although maybe not all the seats, as they do now — despite council’s proposal that the boards could be comprised only of ordinary residents.

How can “Mrs. Smith,” with no technical experience, possibly judge who’s qualified to be licensed? Riley asked rhetorically.

The sides seem to agree that it behooves the city to bring electrical and plumbing inspections in-house again, as the tradesmen urged, so inspectors are more readily available.

When the city had its own inspectors, the setup probably paid for itself, Riley said. “It was policed very well,” he said.

Council members seem to have accepted the tradesmen’s argument that it would be best not to allow homeowners to do tradeswork on their own homes, a practice that would put the onus on inspectors to identify and correct mistakes, despite Decker’s apparent support for the concept.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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