There’s controversy in Louisiana this spring over a proposal to toughen the licensing laws in the home improvement industry. Senate Bill 336, introduced by Senator Danny Martiny and passed in the Senate by a vote of 32 to 3, is now before a committee of the state House. The bill would require any residential contractor working on a job valued at more than $7,500 to be licensed by the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors. To obtain a license, contractors would have to show proof of workers’ comp and liability insurance, and document a net worth of at least $10,000. Contractors would also have to pass a licensing test to show familiarity with their trade. The bill specifically defines covered construction activities that would trigger the licensing requirement: on the list are pile driving, foundations, framing, roofing, masonry or stucco, swimming pools, and last but not least, the catch-all category “home improvement.”

Some small contractors don’t like the idea at all, according to a report from local station KPLC (see: “Contractor licensing bill draws fire from home improvement subcontractors,” by Theresa Schmidt). Senate Bill 336 is 25 pages long - and it's not simple to read,” the station reported. “Beauregard Parish subcontractor Biscuit Smith has read it and he predicts, if passed, it will cause a long list of problems, from higher costs to putting some people out of business.”

Said Smith, “Like if you're a homeowner and you want to sign an affidavit and you're accepting your own responsibility to be your own general contractor and you want to build your house, you're not going to be able to go and hire the individuals that you've known for years. You're going to have to go hire somebody who has a license and that person, instead of charging you 55 cents a square foot to finish concrete, for instance, they're going to have to go up to a $1 or $1.50 a square foot.” Smith called the proposal a “power grab,” saying, “It’s almost Obamacare for the residential contracting world.”

Carpenter Curtis Bertrand made a similar argument to the Lake Charles American Press (see: “Bill draws opposition from carpenters,” by Pamela Sleezer). “The extra charge on me to get the license and then keep up this double insurance is going to definitely affect my rates,” he said. “I have already lost some business because keeping up with all the rules the LSLBC asks is not cheap. But this is going to make me charge even more just to compensate for what I am spending on myself.”

Michael B. McDuff, Executive Director of the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors, fired back in a letter to the Town Talk (see: "SB 336 designed to protect public"). “The Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors (LSLBC) has proposed SB 336 to better protect the public from unlicensed scam artists causing severe damages to our consumers,” wrote McDuff. Citing “rampant contractor fraud and elder abuse” as justifications, McDuff argued, “For the thousands of home improvement businesses that have been working with no insurance, not registered to the State to be taxed and regulated like all other legal businesses, yes, your costs are rising to the same level of the professional home improvement firms. The purpose of LSLBC is to protect the general public and the integrity of the construction industry. You have to question the credibility of those that oppose SB 336.”