2011-04-21 / Local & State

House Votes To Repeal New-Home Sprinkler Mandate

By Peter Jackson
ASSOCIATED PRESS

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives on Wednesday firmly stamped its approval on a bill to repeal a statewide requirement that sprinkler systems be installed in newly built homes and sent the measure to Gov. Tom Corbett.

The 129-68 vote followed an extended debate over a late- surfacing Senate amendment that critics said would effectively give builders veto power over future changes to the state’s Uniform Construction Code.

Proponents sought to keep the focus on the repeal of the sprinkler mandate, which took effect Jan. 1 and applies to all new one- and two-family homes. They said whatever problems the amendment poses could be dealt with later on.

“This Legislature can change this any time they do choose,” said Rep. Rep. Kerry A. Benninghoff, R-Centre.

Democratic critics of the amendment argued that lawmakers should refuse to endorse the Senate amendment and demand the appointment of a conference committee to hammer out a compromise.

“It’s not even close to the same bill” that sailed through the House more than a month ago, said Rep. Matt Smith, D-Allegheny.

Rep. Robert Freeman, RNorthampton, called the amendment “special interest politics at its worst.’’

The legislation sent to the governor changes the threshold for approving changes in the construction code from a simple majority to a two-thirds majority of the 19-member panel that oversees triennial revisions to the code.

Lawmakers and environmentalist groups said building industry representatives on the panel hold enough votes to block a two-thirds majority and warned that they might stop adoption of stricter energy conservation requirements and other important standards.

“Why would they even impose any of these standards?” asked David Masur, the director of PennEnvironment, who sent a letter to legislators warning that their votes would likely be reflected in his group’s 2011 legislative scorecards.

Louis Biacchi, the chief lobbyist for the Pennsylvania Builders Association, denied the charge and said the panel’s 10-9 vote for the sprinkler requirement last year reflects problems with the process used to keep the code current.

“Anything as momentous as this should not be decided by one vote by unelected individuals,” he said in a telephone interview following the House vote. “This should be a consensus-based process where the experts ... decide what is good for Pennsylvania.’’

As for the prospect of the industry running roughshod over the public interest, Biacchi said, “I don’t believe it’s going to happen.”

“Any code change that improves the quality of life of a new home buyer or that reduce the costs’’ of home ownership will be approved, he said. A home buyer “can only afford what he or she can afford.’’

It was unclear Wednesday night whether Corbett would sign the measure, but the fight to pass it was led by his fellow Republicans in the Legislature. His spokesman did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

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