To apply remodeling law lightly, license board says

— The Arkansas Contractors Licensing Board told lawmakers that it plans to tread lightly enforcing a new law that requires a license for home remodelers.

Act 1208 of 2011 requires any “home improvement contractor” whose work costs more than $2,000 to obtain a license from the board.

But some lawmakers have said they plan to try to have the law repealed during the next session. Greg Crow, the board’s administrator, said until the law’s future is more clear, the board will pursue complaints from consumers. But the board will not actively seek out unlicensed home remodelers.

The board pulled down rules it had proposed to implement the law in order to clarify its aims for the next year.

“What we’re going to put explicitly in our regulations is that all we’re going to be doing for the next year, or more than a year, until you all reconvene again, is to deal with educating the public on their responsibilities to hire good contractors,” Crow said at a meeting Monday of the rules subcommittee of the Legislative Council.

With five inspectors for commercial and residential contractors, Crow said, that was never the board’s intent.

“As far as doing random checks to see if someone has a license, I don’t know if we have the time or the forces to do that in the next year,” he said.

Crow said this would still fulfill the law’s original purpose of protecting consumers from unscrupulous contractors and giving them a recourse for complaints.

Sen. Jonathan Dismang, RSearcy, said he hoped to do something to rewrite or repeal the law during the next session. He said he believed the law had the potential to affect thousands of home repairmen doing jobs that require little skill, creating an unnecessary and expensive regulatory hurdle.

“The whole point, and I’m speaking for myself and my goal, is that we do something to repeal this at some point in the future. I think it really increases the scope of what you guys are doing excessively,” Dismang said.

Until then, he said, he wanted to minimize the effect on contractors.

“My goal is to ensure that we do as little as we can to punish our people that are just trying to make ends meet. But the law is the law,” Dismang said.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Bruce Cozart, R-Hot Springs, said he thought the bill was a good consumerprotection measure that should not be repealed.

He said he would be open to certain changes, such as not enforcing the penalty for not having a license in the first year.

“We’re not trying to regulate everybody. We’re just trying to get everyone in compliance so there’s someone the consumers can go to if there’s a problem.”

So far, close to 1,000 people have gotten licenses during a “grandfathering” period that began July 27. During this period, there is no test for the license, only a $100 fee.

That period will end Jan. 1, and anyone performing work without a license could be subject to a fine of up to $400 a day, under the law.

Dismang asked whether it would be possible to reduce the fees, since the law sets out $100 as the maximum.

Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, asked whether people who had already paid the fee could have all or some of their money refunded.

But the law is the law, Crow said. The board’s goal is to implement it “as painlessly as possible,” he said.

Rep. Jonathan Barnett, R-Siloam Springs, said the board was already “sideways” on the legislation, and there isn’t much it can do until the next legislative session.

But Sen. Percy Malone, D-Arkadelphia, said he saw no problem with the board lowering the fee and giving people a refund.

“We’re not saying you’re not going to abide by the law,” he said.

“I don’t see any reason why those people who paid the money can’t have it back,” he said.

Arkansas, Pages 13 on 11/16/2011