Plumbing code debate split by Senate committee

After an amendment was adopted over the objections of the bill’s main sponsor, a Senate committee advanced legislation that would require plumbers to follow one code for residences and another for commercial establishments.

State Rep. Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge, who wanted to change the standards to the International Plumbing Code, said it would be confusing to only put residential plumbing under the IPC and leave commercial work under the Louisiana Plumbing Code.

Louis Reine, the head of the AFL-CIO, said splitting the code would be the only way plumbers would not continue to actively oppose Ponti’s House Bill 1048 because it would allow time for them to get used to the change in codes.

On a vote of 6-2, the state Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection and International Affairs approved the amendment and passed HB1048 to the full Senate for consideration.

Like last week, hundreds of opponents and supporters gathered at the Capitol wearing T-shirts of different colors showing their position on the controversial legislation.

Supporters of changing the code, generally contractors wearing scarlet red, argue that the International Plumbing Code would put Louisiana in line with 34 other states and allow this state’s plumbers to work elsewhere.

Opponents wanting to stay under the existing code, generally plumbers wearing fluorescent green T-shirts, countered that the Louisiana Plumbing Code is more exacting and better fits the topography of this state.

Michael Wich, president of the Building Officials Association of Louisiana, said the amendment basically guts the bill. The goal was to have a standard for plumbing that is the same as other states as is the case with other building trades.

John Barker, executive director of the State Plumbing Board of Louisiana, opposed the legislation.

“We have builders telling plumbers how to do their jobs,” Barker said. “The politics that were involved in this bill is unbelievable.”

After the hearing, Ponti said having two plumbing codes would be cumbersome. “I’ll continue to meet with both side and try to come with a better common ground,” Ponti said, adding that having a single uniform code is his goal.

State Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma and sponsor of the amendment, said he was concerned that the switch from the Louisiana code to the International one would be overnight. Splitting between residential and commercial would give plumbers an opportunity to learn about the new code.

“I’m giving you half,” Chabert said. “Sometimes you have to have a Waterloo and this is it.”

“You’re creating a mess, a bloody mess,” countered state Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie.