The holiday season is over and a new season has begun. January is not only the first month of the new year; it is also the first month in a new legislative session. In odd-numbered years, almost every legislature in all 50 states will be in session for at least a few months.
Whether your chapter and state members support or oppose legislation in principal or specific bills in particular is, of course, a decision only your group can make. You have your feet on the ground; you know the market conditions and the atmosphere and how the profession is viewed. Whatever you decide, HQ has tools and resources to help you. We’ll discuss those in detail in the February Reporter.
If you are just getting started on your legislative activity, you are already way behind and need to get moving. Getting into the swing of legislative activity is not like a bear in hibernation. You don’t take a season off and then wake up ready to act. If anything, the legislative arena has more in common with professional baseball—there is no off-season. When you’re not actively playing, you should be dealing—with lawmakers, other inspector groups and individuals, and special interest groups like Realtors®, contractors, etc., which may have an interest in your profession and its regulation.
And, just like professional agents represent ballplayers when it comes to guaranteeing their interests, you, too, need to be represented by a professional lobbyist to protect yourselves from potential harm. Remember the old joke about legal representation: Only a fool represents himself in court. While grass-roots efforts are vitally important, inspectors don’t possess the skill sets necessary to negotiate with lawmakers and can’t possibly spend the time it takes in the capitol hallways and committee meetings to stay on top of things. Being penny-wise — “we can’t afford a professional” — is definitely pound-foolish in this arena.
So, ready or not, it’s time to get in gear for bills that are coming your way. The trends are clear: Since 1991, 31 states have enacted laws regulating inspectors or inspections, 27 in the last nine years alone.
And even though more than 60 percent of states are already regulated, the number of bills affecting the profession continues to escalate yearly. That includes bills in unregulated states and bills in regulated states that could drastically affect existing regulation, often to the detriment of the ASHI membership.
No matter the state of your preparedness for the coming battles, you can learn from some of the insightful articles that ASHI Government Consultant Janet Swandby has written for the Reporter during the past four years. You will learn about trends, lessons learned in the trenches, strategies that work and don’t work, how to contract a lobbyist and more.
And all of these great articles are no more than a click away.
Read as many as you like, but I recom-mend paying particular attention to the following on www.ashireporter.org:
“Real-Life Lessons about Home Inspector Legislation,” January 2006;
“How to Choose a Lobbyist,” March 2006;
“The Brutality of the Legislative Process: Perception and Reality,” April 2006;
“Legislative Update: Trends and Tools,” December 2004;
“Be Prepared for the Shifts in Momentum in Regulating Home Inspectors,” January 2005; and
“Be Prepared for the 2003 Legislative Sessions,” January 2003.
In addition to writing Reporter articles, Swandby’s company, Swandby/Kilgore Associates, Inc., tracks legislation in all 50 states and advises ASHI’s Legislative Committee on projects and issues.
Swandby also gives a workshop on legislative issues and trends at ASHI’s annual Chapter Leadership Days in Chicago every October. If you had the privilege of attending this past year, you heard a provocative presentation on myths and realities regarding home inspector regulation, “State Regulation — the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
It’s worth recounting some of the salient points as you head into the swirl of activity confronting you:
Myth: Regulation will “raise the bar” and “eliminate the fly-by-nighters” and “low-lifes.”
Reality: Licensing will NOT eliminate them and, in fact, states with licensing have more home inspectors, at least in the first few years after enactment, not fewer. And more means more unqualified inspectors.
Myth: Licensing will provide a safe haven for existing ASHI Members, and keep the market to us, keeping out new inspectors.
Reality: Lawmakers are not sympathetic to laws that bar entry to a profession. You can bet that the unqualified will find a sympathetic ear, and it’s likely you’ll get a law that opens the floodgates.
Myth: Ignoring legislation will make it go away.
Reality: Whatever your position on regulation, this is a recipe for disaster that will only ensure that other interested parties will dictate what happens to you.
Myth: Licensing should focus only on high standards for entry into the profession.
Reality: Regulations should include education requirements, an exam developed to psychometric standards by unbiased professionals, professional standards of practice, continuing education requirements, ethical standards that guarantee the independence of inspectors, fair liability limits for inspectors, an empowered regulatory board and a complaint registry for consumers to seek redress.
High standards for entry do not mean a better law. Having a majority of ASHI Members on a Board does not mean a better law. Having ASHI’s name or Standards or Ethics officially adopted does not mean that either.
The fact is that regulation is neither an unmitigated disaster nor is it a panacea. It is a reality that the ASHI membership has to deal with. And if regulation is inevitable, then regulation with a good minimum of protection for the consumer and the inspector is the most desirable, with the components discussed in this article.