Michigan building code update killed by Senate panel

 August 13, 2023

A Wisconsin Senate committee has killed an update to Wisconsin's commercial building codes along party lines, with Republicans raising concerns about the cost of the updates for businesses and consumers. 

The update would have brought Wisconsin building code standards, which were last updated in 2015, up to date with the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code.

Supporters of the updated building codes said they would be more energy efficient and reduce emissions, while those who voted against it said there wasn't a thorough enough evaluation of how the updates would increase building costs.

The Senate Housing, Rural Issues and Forestry Committee vote was taken by paper ballot and ended up 3-2 to block the vote, with Republicans in the majority.

Voices in favor

At a July 18 hearing, witnesses for the state Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) and for the state Commercial Building Code Council said the update would make buildings safer and energy costs lower.

Professional association spokesman Mick Schwedler testified that construction costs would be $1 per square foot lower under the update, and $3.50 per square foot could be saved over 30 years in energy costs.

“The same cost effectiveness study also shows net and energy savings for small offices, small hotels in standalone retail buildings that are even greater than the average life-cycle cost savings for all building types,” Schwedler testified.

Legislative liaison for the state Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) said building owners' insurance costs could increase over time if the new code was not adopted.

Trade groups against update

The Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC) trade group said it believed it would create unnecessary hardship for builders, however.

“One thing we know for sure, is that the 2021 code is going to be, energy-wise, stricter than the current code,” ABC architect Steve Klessig said. “The current code, energy-wise, is already difficult for many popular building types in Wisconsin to comply with.”

Other association groups including including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Wisconsin Builders Association, the Wisconsin Ready Mixed Concrete Association, the Wisconsin Realtors Association and NAIOP, which represents commercial and industrial real estate developers also sent their disapproval of the update in writing, but did not appear to testify at the hearing.

Democrat Sen. Mark Spreitzer argued that the state would be "setting ourselves back" by not adopting the update.

Clean Wisconsin spokesperson Amy Barrilleaux said, “The cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use, so conservation and efficiency are key to saving money and protecting our climate."

Lawmaker comments

“We always have to weigh out safety vs. cost,” Assembly Chair Robert Brooks (R) said. “We could require everybody to build a brick house, because they’re going to be much more stable,” Brooks added. “We don’t do that in a free-market system.”

Sen. Rob Stafsholt (R) said it was a good idea to reduce regulations, not to add more to what he called the "nanny state."

“Most of the contractors I know really want to build a quality building. They want people to be safe, and they place their name on that,” Stafsholt said. “I’m going to try to urge that we actually eliminate codes and restrictions and allow the market to take the brunt of that and do what it’s meant to do.”

The Assembly committee has not taken action on the bill yet, and may not do so since the Senate committee has nixed it.

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