State Council Will Rescind Building Code Revisions; Hid The Ball

Opposition to code amendments which might have weakened home fire safety, was deep-sixed by staff before board approval.

State Council Forced To Rescind Building Code Revisions
The Washington State Building Code Council's duty is to protect public health, safety and welfare through code adoption and approval. Photo: living

The Washington’s State Building Code Council (SBCC) has agreed to rescind code amendments that a major trade group feared might weaken residential fire safety.

The moves comes via a stipulated order and settlement agreement that the council agreed to last week.

It did so to forestall a lawsuit by the Building Industry Association of Washington.

The documents must still be signed and submitted to Thurston County court to be finalized. Getting the needed signatures is now only a matter of “logistics,” said BIAW attorney Adam Frank.

Building Code Revisions Would Be Rescinded Under Settlement Of Suit

The SBBC would remove from a building code and a residential building code similar amendments to not require a window or other escape from basement sleeping rooms in Washington homes if a sprinkler system was installed.

The amendments are being subtracted because they were formally added in November without any council discussion of opposition which BIAW had registered in public proceedings.

The Stipulated Order states that the council during the rulemaking process prepared a spreadsheet summarizing a range of proposed code amendments, but “through error failed to indicate” that the fire safety amendments were “controversial and had received opposing testimony.”

The miscue was amplified when staff batched the contested amendments with uncontested ones, and all were approved by the council’s board without discussion.

“The parties agree that the Court would find that the Council’s decision as to the amendment of these two codes was arbitrary and capricious,” the order states.

Fire Sprinklers Not Failsafe; Window Escape Routes Needed

BIAW said in a statement it was opposed to the sprinkler amendment because “fire sprinklers are not failsafe and homeowners would need another escape route if the window was removed or modified” due to the amendment.

BIAW President Dave Main, added, “This violation among many others, has been an ongoing issue with the Council. BIAW filed a lawsuit after it became clear the public agency would not act to correct its own process and procedure failures. With this settlement, we hope the agency realizes it must follow state laws as well as their own policies when making decisions that directly impact every single builder in Washington.”

Main said, “We wish a lawsuit wasn’t necessary to force the Council to follow the law, but it was and remains our only remedy for situations where our right to participate is blatantly disregarded.”

Tim Nogler, the SBBC’s Managing Director, did not return a call requesting comment. A spokesperson for the Department of Enterprise Services (DES) Linda Kent, said the agreement was not final until it was signed, and declined further comment.

‘The Processes Are Very Questionable’

Senator Jan Angel, (R-26) said of the settlement which the council’s board voted to approve, “What this comes back to is a lack of process, there’s a lot of that there. The processes are very questionable.” Among the problems she observed as ex-officio legislative member of the council, said Angel, were poor financial reporting practices, poor adherence to appointment criteria for certain membership slots, and an overall administrative drift which accented the need for an outside review and more direct supervision from DES.

Both Sen. Angel and Rep. Tana Senn. (D-41) introduced bills last session to begin an SBCC reform process including a task force review. The combined measure failed to gain final passage in part because because the Senate would not agree to House provisions for building fee permit increases to increase funding for the council.

The duty of the council is to protect public health, safety and welfare through setting minimum building, mechanical, fire, plumbing and safety code requirements and reviewing and adopting the state building code.


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