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News >  ID Government

Idaho House panel backs restriction on city, county changes to building codes

Feb. 27, 2018 Updated Tue., Feb. 27, 2018 at 9:12 p.m.

Builders, architects and local officials from across Idaho urged strongly against it – as did the state association of fire chiefs – but a House committee on Tuesday passed legislation to forbid cities or counties from adopting any residential building code provisions that are more up-to-date or more stringent than those adopted by a state board.

“It brings consistency to the entire state of Idaho,” Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, the lead sponsor of HB 547, told the House Business Committee. “One way to keep affordable housing would be to have a consistent code. … We don’t want more homeless people because of our regulations.”

Opponents of the bill said local city and county officials routinely amend building codes to match their local conditions, from snow-loading and snowmelt issues to wind-resistance and seismic standards. “The Legislature is not as well equipped to deal with local conditions as the people who live and work in those jurisdictions,” Jan Welch, a structural engineer from Boise, told the committee.

Remodeling contractor Joe Levitch asked “who in their right mind” wouldn’t want buildings built to the latest energy standards. “Certainly not home buyers,” he said.

Dave Yorgason, a developer who supported the bill, said Boise has adopted 2015 residential building codes, but surrounding cities haven’t and still have 2012 codes, and that’s a problem for builders who build in multiple jurisdictions. “It’s not just Boise which has caused this problem,” he said. “We know of other jurisdictions in eastern Idaho and elsewhere in the state.”

Architect Andy Erstad told the lawmakers that if Idaho freezes its building codes at outdated standards and doesn’t allow communities to amend those, insurance rates will rise. “All of our rates are going to go up,” he said. “It’s a business issue across the entire state.”

Andrew Bick, chairman of the state Building Code Board, said the board was divided 4-3 in favor of the bill, which he said shifts Idaho from having a “low-bar standard” from which local jurisdictions can vary, to a “high-bar standard for the state,” which local areas can’t exceed. “I do feel what we need to do is have collaboration,” Bick told the lawmakers. “I don’t feel like this bill has done that.”

Complicating the issue is that the state Building Code Board adopted the 2015 code, then later rescinded the decision, amid much dissension.

Pat Riley, chief of the Northern Lakes Fire Protection District in Hayden, spoke against the bill on behalf of the Idaho Fire Chiefs Association.

Palmer told the committee that building codes themselves say local jurisdictions can make amendments, but Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, noted that the bill says otherwise. “I think we may be going a step too far here with some of the wording,” he said. “Statutes are higher-level.”

The bill passed on a voice vote, with five committee members voting no: The panel’s three minority Democrats, Clow, and Rep. Jarom Wagoner, R-Caldwell. It now moves to the full House.

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