Monday, March 13, 2006

Is builders' bill truly 'working in 27 other states'? A top Texas official would beg to differ

In its campaign to persuade Gov. Rendell to sign House Bill 1467, the "Residential Construction Dispute Resolution Act," the Pennsylvania Builders Association has said repeatedly that similar legislation "already is working in 27 other states," as Brad Elliott, the PBA president, put it in a letter to the editor in Sunday's Inquirer

The next letter, from Cindy Schnackel of Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings, disputes that conclusion, calling these laws "wolves in sheep's clothing."

But you don't have to take an advocate's word – or mine – that serious doubts have arisen since these "tort reform for builders" laws started to spread swiftly thanks to a national lobbying campaign by the home-building industry. Just listen to criticism about one of those 27 laws by a state official who has looked closely into her own state's version: Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn.

Strayhorn, in case you're wondering, is no died-in-wool Democrat or anti-business flame-thrower. Although she recently left the Republican Party to run for governor as an independent, she calls herself a "common-sense conservative." One of her sons, Scott McClellan, is press secretary to President Bush. Still, she doesn't pull any punches about the Texas law's strong tilt in favor of contractors over consumers.

The Texas law differs a bit from Pennsylvania's, in part because it establishes a Texas Residential Construction Commission to oversee the new dispute-resolution process. But the goals of the Texas law and its dispute-resolution procedure are similar to what the builders and contractors lobbyists are on the brink of getting here. And that dispute process drew scathing criticism from Strayhorn in a January report.

Strayhorn said her "research found no evidence the Texas Residential Construction Commission has had a favorable impact on the homeowner. It is clear that the Texas Residential Construction Commission functions as a builder protection agency."

"If our standard is giving all Texans a fair shake, this agency has fallen far short of that goal," Strayhorn added. You can read Strayhorn's whole statement here.

If Rendell wants to give all Pennsylvanians a fair shake, he should stop HB 1467 before it becomes law.


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