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House Debates Federal Safe Building Code Incentive Act

July 30, 2012

Artist impression. Rob Thomas and Phil Cullen ...

 

From APA Policy News for Planners:

Bill Promotes Building Codes as Disaster Management Tool

By Jason Jordan
APA Director of Policy and Government Affairs

Modernizing building codes to better withstand natural disasters would save lives, property, and billions in taxpayer dollars, but unfortunately, many communities lack adequate building codes.

A bill debated by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this week aims to tackle this problem by giving states incentives to update their building codes.

The Safe Building Code Incentive Act (HR 2069) would provide states with an additional 4 percent in post-disaster funding by approving and actively enforcing an approved state building code, which is subject to presidential approval.  It defines an approved state building code as one that is consistent with the most recent version (within six years) of a nationally recognized model building code and uses the nationally recognized code as a minimum standard.

The bill is designed to provide incentives to communities to adopt modern building codes, as opposed to penalizing those that don’t.

In the hearing, bill sponsor Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) promoted model building codes as “widely accepted in emergency management as the best defense” for communities. He highlighted the structure of the bill, pointing out that it does not mandate states to adopt building codes.

Though better building codes would save billions in the long-term, Diaz-Balart acknowledged that the bill does rely on appropriations from Congress, which could hinder its passage in this current budget climate.

The bill appeared to have little opposition. All witnesses testified that building codes are integral to saving lives, property and tax dollars in natural disasters, and the members of Congress present did not voice any opposition.

Rod Matthews, a vice president at State Farm Insurance Companies, said that for every dollar spent on improving buildings, $4 in taxpayer funding is saved. He cited a 2012 study that found that the Safe Building Code Incentive Act would have saved taxpayers $11 billion in hurricane disaster relief alone from 1988 to the present had it been enacted.

Witness Chad Berginnis emphasized the role of planning in disaster mitigation. To respond to disasters effectively, he testified, communities need to conduct mitigation planning every three to five years. Planning during non-disaster times allows communities to identify all options available during what he described as the “what’s next moment” communities face after disaster strikes.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) responded that this was particularly good advice for communities, and admitted that she “hadn’t thought about mitigation planning.”

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Based on our local hazard mitigation planning meetings, there would be significant grassroots opposition to any mandate for building codes, just as there is widespread misunderstanding and opposition to, say, floodplain zoning.  The post above, from the American Planning Association, doesn’t include comments from builders or real estate interests.   In fact, I would suspect this is “tar-and-feather” territory independent of local Tea Party or anti-Agenda 21 sentiment.

Tread lightly.

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