Plumbing to Become Unregulated in Texas After Lawmakers Fail to Reauthorize Agency That Oversees Industry

One of the few licensed trades in Texas will no longer be regulated after lawmakers in Austin failed to extend the life of the state agency that oversees plumbers. The Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners was up for legislative review this year, under what's called the Sunset process, as happens from time to time with all state agencies.

What looked like a necessary modernization effort turned into a last-minute squabble in the legislative process with the consequence of creating a new environment for those who work in plumbing in this state.

Lawmakers on an advisory commission and the Office of Gov. Greg Abbott supported the idea of moving the plumbing board to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, a larger agency that oversees quite a few professions.

That recommendation came after a review by the Sunset Advisory Commission found that in many cases it took as long as eight months for a person to get their license to become a plumber at a time when Texas and the rest of country is experiencing a shortage of them.

Chief among the reasons it was taking so long to get a plumbing license: A person could only receive their training in Austin and nowhere else in a state of 254 counties across two times zones. 

An antiquated approach, for sure.

In the closing days of the legislative session, the timing of when to move the Plumbing Board to TDLR became contentious.

Some Democrats, including Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston, wanted to make the change in 2021 instead of sooner. She was initially successful in convincing the Texas House to amend legislation saying the move would happen in two years.

But that change was stripped out of the final legislation by House and Senate negotiators in a conference committee. 

When that final version of the bill was on the House floor Rep. Chris Paddie, a Republican from Marshall who also serves as Vice Chair of the Sunset Commission, clashed with Thompson and the measure narrowly failed. 

“Congratulations to us all because our plumbing shortage is solved because we can all become plumbers,” Paddie said, maybe jokingly. 

“Years from now, will be telling stories to my grandchildren about how we used to regulate plumbers & have a Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners, until we abolished them in 2019,” Paddie later said on Twitter. “I will also tell them that you shouldn’t call the bluff of someone who isn’t bluffing.”

Usually, there is a bill passed by the Legislature that serves as a backup re-authorization for state agencies. But that bill was also not passed before the time ran out in the legislative session on Monday.

So, the agency will go away next year and the regulations it administers will go away this September.

Despite all this, Gov. Abbott said on social media there will be no special session of the legislature to address this or anything else. Abbott's top priorities including a school finance overhaul and property tax "reform" were both passed by the House and Senate and sent to his desk.

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