TYC, Now TRCC Sees Another Dawn
Home-builder regulators become builder licensers, ignoring Sunset Commission recommendations
By Richard Whittaker,
9:18AM, Thu. May 7, 2009
During Tuesday's debate over the nomination of global climate change doubter Dr. Bryan Shaw to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Sen. Rodney Ellis asked very pointedly why the hell they bother with confirmations if every nomination goes through on the nod.
After this week, the Sunset Advisory Commission must also be wondering why they bother turning up for work. First, the House completely ignores the recommendations of staff and the majority of the commission when it came to the Texas Youth Commission. Then on Wednesday they ignored the core staff recommendation for the Texas Residential Construction Commission by letting it stay open.
The House voted out HB 2295, the TRCC Sunset Bill, by voice acclimation Wednesday afternoon. While it beefs up the agency's powers and re-brands the home builder registration system as a licensing system, TRCC is still there.
The agency is generally regarded as a complete mess: Not powerful enough to be truly regulatory, but using its mediation process means homeowners are effectively precluded from suing their home builder. The Sunset review called its industry oversight "fundamentally flawed [and it] does more harm than good." Ouch.
Critics say it's nothing more than a way for the building industry to stop home owners suing them for shoddy work. The regular claim is that the original legislation setting it up was written by and for Republican sugar daddy and building tycoon Bob Perry. How close is the relationship? House Democratic Caucus Chair Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, explained, "A very prominent home builder, his legal council is a member of the commission." Gee, who could that be?
Bill author Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, was optimistic, calling HB2295 "not a bill the builders love." But there was still a torrent of floor amendments: Most important may be two by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, which put the agency back in partial Sunset Review in 2013, just to check how it's complying with legislation from this and the next session.
TRCC is a bug-bear for Rep. Diana Maldonado, D-Round Rock, who made reforming it a part of her election platform. She added her own amendment requiring that homeowners be fully informed that signing an arbitration agreement means they're signing away their right to sue (no hiding that info in the small print.) "I don't think that had been disclosed before," she said. The final intent of the bill, she added, was "a consumer friendly-bill [ ] and I think we're achieving that through the amendments."
The true high point of the debate was at the end, when McClendon and Sunset Chair Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, had a discussion that the licensing system shouldn't be used to block reformed convicts from working in construction. This wasn't a theoretical issue: Since the actual licensing rules will be left up to the agency, they wanted it clearly stated in the records that the legislative intent wasn't to push people out of a job.