2015 Bills

HB126: Licensure for Interior Designers

This bill passed out of committee but was not considered by the House of Representatives.

Libertas Institute opposes this bill.

In Utah, the independent practice of interior design, when seeking building permits to make modifications to certain architectural elements of an interior, is restricted to the existing licensing requirements under architectural licensing. Some interior designers want the ability to work independently from architects and seek their own licensing recognition to allow them to obtain building permits independently from architects. This summer, the interior design lobby in Utah applied to become a licensed occupation in Utah. New applications for licensure must first be reviewed through a sunrise process by the Occupational and Professional Licensure Review Committee. During that process, the committee declined to grant the interior designers’ request and instead favored alternatives to full licensure. One option the committee favored was to grant interior designers an exemption from existing architectural licensing requirements for the work of interior design. However, the industry did not reach agreement on what constituted interior design, how interior design differed from architecture, what, if any, impacts on public health and safety interior design had, and what, if any, requirements would be required to qualify for an exemption.

House Bill 126, sponsored by Representative Fred Cox, an architect by trade, aims to address some of these issues by regulating interior design through a separate professional licensure act, something the review committee did not favor. The bill is designed to carve out a portion of existing architectural work that interior designers could also conduct independently of architects. It grants licensed interior designers the ability to submit plans independently for building permit approval which current architectural licensing does not permit. However, it also creates an entirely new category of licensure along with a professional licensing board and new requirements for interior designers to meet to obtain this license.

Generally, the trend across the country has been to deregulate interior design and reduce the number of licensed occupations. Utah should not break this trend. New licensing acts come with a number of concerns:

First, work that does not have a verifiable and significant impact on the health and safety of the public should not be considered for new or expanded licensing requirements. Too often the clamor for licensure comes with speculative allegations about the potential impact on public health or safety of an unregulated practitioner. In many cases, such allegations are unfounded. 

Second, once established, a full licensing act is hard to repeal but easy to amend. While this particular act is currently written in a broad way so as to be inclusive of practitioners and not exclusive, it is only a matter of time before the industry might seek amendments that could narrow licensing over time and burden those trying to enter the market.

Third, the act seeks to impose a private industry certification as the predicate for licensure. This requirement is onerous and in many cases not directly relevant to Utah building code statutes anyway. In many cases, statutorily endorsing such private certifications are more advantageous for the industry group than for the public. Such licensing requirements merely become barriers to entry for new or competing practitioners and undermine market forces.

While we understand the burden of existing regulation on interior designers, we do not think that the solution is more regulation. A better approach would be to revisit the requirements for building permits and ensure that regulatory oversight and restrictions on design plans exist only for those items that truly impact public health and safety in a significant and verifiable way. Outside of that, design practitioners should not be placed under additional regulation.

  • fredcox4utah

    The
    bill doesn’t require most interior designers to be licensed and it
    doesn’t create a new area of practice requiring a license.  
    What it
    does do, is allow specific interior designers, with specialized
    education,
    training, experience, certification and a license, to provide signed
    drawings limited in scope of work, with a DOPL licensing number for a
    building permit that currently requires an architect license. We are not
    talking about colors, etc. This would allow then
    to create building permit drawings for non-bearing walls, doors, etc.
    It is literally creating
    competition for me as an architect. There are many drawings that can be
    created without a license and those exceptions are not eliminated. There
    are about 160 interior designers with a NCIDQ
    certification that this may help, and others that may work toward this.

  • fredcox4utah
  • JDaniels

    fredcox4utah Thanks for the update! It is admittedly a complex issue but I think an exemption approach as opposed to licensure would be better in the long run. I also don’t think this bill summary was meant to call into question your role as an architect, rather your professional expertise on the issue. To your credit you are indeed admirably creating competition for yourself by recognizing areas within your industry where you can share market space with interior designers. However, if there are design features that do not have a significant and verifiable impact on health and safety, why are we regulating them at all? Does moving a non-bearing wall really have such a huge impact on health and safety that we can only allow licensed professionals to submit plans for their adjustment? I think the pendulum of government regulation over design vis-a-vis building codes has gone too far and needs to swing back a bit.

  • fredcox4utah

    Exiting designs for large spaces is very much a health a lifesafety issue. How many feet before you have two ways out, and a lot of other issues. There is a reason it is a licensed area of practice as people can and do get killed. The current non licensed practice areas remain, and in some cases, this clarifies that you can do construction related non permit required drawings without a license, something the other designers were complaining about. The committee proposed an exception and you saw the disaster that bill looked like. At that point all sides of industry proposed a separate act. In April and May I had proposed a two line exception. It sounded good but didn’t work, not after checking with cities and building officials, etc.

  • prestige_gov

    HB126 seeks to remove barriers for interior designers and
    restore the autonomy for the industry that existed prior to the architect’s
    practice act. This is a non-mandatory, voluntary option for interior designers
    who want to pursue projects that are currently regulated, by allowing them to
    qualify for permitting privileges.
    Interior designers want to keep their intellectual property.
    Interior designers have a scope that is often misunderstood, is quite large,
    and invariably overlaps with architects, who work from the outside in. Interior
    designers work from the inside out, and are specifically trained to work in
    interior spaces. There is not a monopoly on skill or talent. Allowing interior
    designers the option to work in licensed spaces offers benefits to the free
    market and to consumers.
    HB126 also does not affect residential interior design. It
    does not regulate the title of interior designer. Very plainly stated, the bill
    creates several pathways for interior designers who want to work in an already
    licensed space, to do so independently. The state of Utah puts forth the
    standards for licensed spaces, and currently there is only one group who
    maintains control over this space. The inclusion of professionals trained
    specifically to work in code-based interiors creates choice for consumers and
    industry partners.
    During stakeholder meetings IDEAL-UT met with many groups of
    people, including Libertas. The intricacies of the IBC, current state laws, and local policies
    greatly contributed to the set of viable solutions on the table. HB126 is the
    result of those compromises. Opposing this bill simply results in a rejection
    of free-market competition, further maligns small businesses which are majority
    female owned, and signals agreement with an established government monopoly.

  • Michael Dudek

    I appreciate the thoughtful discussion here. Kudos to Rep. Cox for his position on this.  I am watching carefully as we prepare to establish a similar effort for those interior designers who practice in regulated interior environments in my state.  I would like to address a point raised in the Libertas article that; 

    “First, work that does not have a verifiable and significant impact on the health and safety of the public should not be considered for new or expanded licensing requirements”

    This is a classic straw man argument posited by the Institute for Justice in the early days of the interior design deregulation movement.  First I point out that there is an entire chapter of the International Building Code that addresses only interior finishes (Chapt #8).  If the specification of such finishes, which is in entirely the purview professional interior designers who are educated, trained and vetted via exam to specify such finishes does not impact the health, safety and welfare of the public then why is it in the code book?  Professional Interior Designers also deal with the codes included in IBC chapters 10 & 11 as well on a daily basis.  What the IJ fails to distinguish in their argument that there is no public outcry for interior designers to be regulated is that the vast majority of “Interior Designers” do not perform design services that are regulated by building codes.  Most of their work is in the residential decoration realm.  This unfortunately is as much a semantic issue as it is a definition of scope issue.  

    Bottom line, as Rep. Cox notes. is that we professional interior designers who have been educated, trained and vetted via industry standard exam to design spaces in code regulated buildings simply want to be allowed to submit our design work (within a limited scope) without having to engage the services of an Architect simply to sign and seal our construction documents in order to pull a permit.  Ultimately this provides more competition in the market place and gives consumers more choices and options as to who they contract with to perform their interior design projects.

    Of course the American Institute for Architects is not going to be pleased.  They have a stranglehold on this work.

  • Evan

    Michael Dudek is spot on with his comments. It is unfortunate that Libertas does not have a clear understanding of the issue. I am a principal and designer at a large local architectural firm. I have six other designers that work under my direct supervision. We create construction documents for all of our projects and even though we do all of the drawings we cannot stamp them for permit. I have to hand them over to an architect (who literally knows nothing of the project) simply for him to stamp them. We work in code based environments EVERY SINGLE DAY. We effect life safety EVERY SINGLE DAY. To say otherwise is simply not true and misleading. Please get your facts straight.

  • Evan

    “Moving a wall” can have a significant impact on life safety – just look into IBC Chapter 10 and you will clearly understand this.

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