Last year, during a relatively mundane debate concerning the tri-annual update to the state fire code, Representative Mike Noel (Republican – Kanab) rose to speak against the bill. At first, Noel was upset that county commissioners from Noel’s rural district did not have ample time to weigh in on the initial proposals related to the updates to the fire code.
From there, things took a odd turn. Noel attempted to make an argument that, because fire codes were based on international uniform building code, that the laws being proposed also had to adhere to international standards. “My question would be: the code has reciprocity with Japan, would you feel that this code would protect my citizens in Piute, Garfield, Wayne, San Juan, and Severe Counties against tsunamis that might come into those areas? Would they be protected from that based on this code? Or, would the nuclear power plants in my district be protected from those tsunamis with this international building code?” This, despite the fact that Representative Larry Wiley, a former building code inspector, had just informed Noel that “even though it is an international code, it isn’t international in the sense that this same code is being used in Korea, Mexico, places like that… the codes themselves are promulgated by the International Code Council, that is just the name of the council that promulgates these codes. They are well vetted, and every three years they modify the code.”
This move by Noel confused Speaker Becky Lockhart (Republican – Provo) as she wondered aloud from the dais if his argument had anything to do with the bill currently being debated while Representative Jim Dunnigan (Republican – Taylorsvile), who was presenting the bill, did the legislative version of a exacerbated sigh, calling for a point of order to see where Noel was going with his argument.
Seeing that the attempt to sway the body by using the bogyman of international interference was going nowhere, Noel quickly shifted and attempted to introduce an amendment to Dunnigan’s bill that argued that the fire code “was not conducive to the needs of rural Utah… We still do have some freedoms down there where we can still build a home to protect our families – which I feel is a basic right to do that, and build it safe such that they will be protected from fire, they’ll be protected from the elements. We may not have all the bells and whistles up here, we may not have the sprinklers in the roof, we may not have all those things, but they are safe.”
Noel then pointed to an all-metal arena in Orderville that had to be reduced in size due to current Utah fire code and felt that this was just one example of legislative overreach. Ultimately, Noel would argue that part-time, duly elected, county officials should be allowed to set whatever fire ordinances they so choose, so long as those commissioners follow the regular process.
The amendment would ultimately fail, but Noel vowed to bring the issue up during the next legislative session. Sure enough we now have HB 328 – Construction and Fire Codes Amendments. The bill does exactly what Noel promised: allow county commissioners in counties with populations of less than 31,000 to modify the State Fire Code as they see fit.
With this bill, Noel seems to think that fire somehow reviews fire code prior to ignition and considers if it is in a rural or urban setting, or that fire cares about the right to build a home however free rural Utahns please. Dunnigan echoed these thoughts: “If there are specific examples of overreach… let’s address those, as they likely affect buildings and structures that are not just in [rural counties].”
Dunnigan went on, “Either we have a state fire code or we don’t. If you want to do that, lets have that discussion. But it makes no sense to me to exempt out [rural counties] but make all [large counties] have to comply with the State Fire Code. It is a significant policy issue: should we allow local governments to ignore or modify the State Fire Code?” Wiley added that “[…if we] start exempting out cities or counties… contractors will have no idea what codes to follow.” Representative Brad Wilson (Republican – Kaysville) took the argument even further, noting that he felt “…the reason we have a state code is so that we have consistency from one jurisdiction to the next – so that, if you are a realtor, you can talk to your clients and know exactly what is going to be built from one town to the next; if you are a contractor, you can consistently understand the rules you need to abide by from one town to the next; if you are an architect you can design products or buildings and understand what codes are in affect… and if you are a buyer, you understand what is being sold to you. [By allowing multiple codes to exists] you are opening Pandora’s Box, and if you are in the construction industry, you know how troublesome that can be.”
By giving smaller counties free range on fire, building, and energy codes, Noel is creating a potential patchwork of codes that could potentially lead to tragedy. Noel appears so eager to protect imagined infringements on rights that he is willing to risk real lives.
Noel was initially successful with his attempt to insert legislation similar to HB 328 in Dunnigan’s proposal last year, however the Senate would reverse his actions. With strong support in the House, it is quite possible that Noel will make some headway with this bill. Time will tell what the legislative process will do to this particular piece of legislation.
To contact Representative Noel, click here or call 435-616-5603.
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Need for Legislation:
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker