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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 12:57 am

Deregulation of engineers draws fire

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Engineers, home inspectors, hearing aid dealers and auctioneers should no longer be licensed or regulated by the state, according to a committee reviewing the dozens of occupations the state oversees.

The Jobs Creation Committee has issued preliminary findings on 11 occupations but more public hearings are expected. And the Indiana General Assembly would have to vote to eliminate the licensing in the next session.

The engineering recommendation is getting the most attention so far.

"A century ago, anyone could work as an engineer without proof of competency. Now every state regulates the practice of engineering to ensure public safety by granting only (professional engineers) the authority to sign and seal engineering plans and offer their services to the public," said Scott S. Haraburda, president of the Indiana Society of Professional Engineers.

"If the recommendations are implemented, Indiana will be the only state that fails to license and regulate its engineers, a dangerous risk that Hoosiers cannot afford to take."

The legislature in recent years has sought to examine the possible deregulation of several occupations overseen by the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency.

This is the third iteration of the committee, though the title and the members have changed several times.

First it was the Indiana Regulated Occupations Evaluation Committee in 2011, which recommended the elimination of several licenses. But in 2012 a swarm of cosmetologists and barbers blocked the move.

Then the legislature changed the committee to ERASER, which meant Eliminate, Reduce, and Streamline Employee Regulation Committee.

In 2014, the name of the committee was changed again to the Jobs Creation Committee but its task was the same – a five-year review of dozens of occupations and their licensing requirements.

Nicholas Goodwin, spokesman for the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency, said the newest committee released its first annual report this month.

The agency is an umbrella for 38 boards, commissions and committees, and regulates more than 70 professional licenses. In all, the agency regulates about 470,000 actively licensed professionals, meaning almost one in seven working Hoosiers are licensed by the agency. In looking at all of the agencies that regulate professions, 1 in 4 Hoosiers must be licensed to go to work every day.

Rep. Dave Wolkins, R-Warsaw, served on the original committee and remembers how hard it was to deregulate an occupation.

"It is an important discussion to have," he said. "There are studies that show licensing is an impediment to jobs. They keep people out. But due to the pressure from the groups it’s very difficult to get anything done."

He took heat from the cosmetologists and barbers for being involved in that effort. Wolkins said in general people in a profession feel it should remain licensed to protect their turf as well as the money and time they spent getting the license.

He doesn’t know specifically about the engineer recommendation but questioned why engineers would be deregulated but not architects.

"If you have an engineering degree why should the state be deciding if you are a competent engineer? I could understand and maybe even buy in but that will be hard to get through," he said.

The Regulated Occupations Evaluation Committee in 2011 recommended that engineers remain licensed though licensing fees should be reduced.

The Benefit-Cost Determination back then said "mistakes can be catastrophic and costly. Although licensing per se will not prevent all of these unfortunate incidents, ROEC believes that even a small reduction in the risk of harm through licensing is sufficient to justify modest costs of licensing, particularly if the fees are reduced, as recommended."

Engineers have been licensed in Indiana since 1935. The total number of active licenses with the State Board of Registration of Professional Engineers is 35,253, which includes 11,789 professional engineers.

In 2010, the state board added continuing education requirements for engineers – 30 hours every two years.

The Jobs Creation Committee report said "the welfare of all Hoosiers working in metropolitan areas is at stake if the state’s infrastructure, buildings, etc. are not properly constructed."

It listed several engineering failures since 1981 – including Chernobyl, a dam collapse and a bridge collapse.

"These accidents occurred with the engineering field being regulated, but the volume of accidents could have been higher without the current structure in place. Some of the economic impact is preventing disasters from happening in the first place," the report said.

The report wasn’t clear on what the recommended changes are to engineer licensing but draft minutes of the meeting were.

By a 5-0 vote, the committee recommended Indiana no longer oversee or administer engineering licenses. The minutes note only one license has been revoked since 2008.

"It is the JCC’s opinion that there is adequate regulatory oversight from other governmental agencies when it comes to the work performed by the engineer in their construction/design," the draft minutes said.

Goodwin made clear that the recommendations are preliminary and another meeting will occur soon to focus more directly on the proposed changes.

The committee also voted to eliminate licensing for home inspectors, hearing aid dealers and auctioneers.

Here is what the minutes said on each of those items:

Home inspectors – "a consumer rarely chooses who their home inspector is or the company they work for as their real estate broker working on behalf of the consumer typically chooses the individual. Private sector and marketplace economic principles will weed out bad actors, and the government’s involvement in licensing these individuals is unnecessary."

Hearing aid dealers - "Consumers seeking hearing aids are already under the care of a physician and licensing this practice was redundant. Only two hearing aid dealer licenses have been revoked since 2008 in Indiana so the JCC feels that the threat of consumer harm is minimal."

Auctioneers – "The JCC felt this profession would be a good candidate for the self-certification registry."

nkelly@jg.net