Legislative Alert: Updates on MD, IN and NJ Legislation
In March, two identical bills were recently introduced in the State of Maryland (HB 1311/SB 722) that seek to severely curtail the use of conventional light-frame construction in multifamily and light-commercial buildings. Additionally, the bills would require buildings that do use conventional light-frame construction to use a 'Fire Watch’ warden to monitor the building 24 hours a day.
Neither of these bills were considered in the committees they were assigned, and the Maryland legislature has adjourned until January 2018. SBCA will continue to work with its members and other groups to ensure measures like these aren’t passed into law.
In January, a measure (HB 1124) was been introduced in the Indiana House that would require builders, as part of their application for a building permit, to send certified letters to the local fire service and emergency responders, notifying them of their intent to construct a class 1 or 2 building using “engineered wood.” The bill narrowly defines “engineered wood: as:
“Sec. 5. As used in this chapter, "engineered lumber" means lumber or structural assemblies that: (1) are composite materials fabricated from: (A) wood; (B) light gauge metal; (C) adhesives; (D) other component materials; or (E) any combination of materials described in clauses (A) through (D); (2) have less mass cross-sectional area than sawn lumber of equivalent proportions used in an equivalent application; and (3) are assembled from combustible or noncombustible materials, or both. The term does not include lumber or a structural assembly that provides at least one (1) hour of fire resistance when tested in accordance with ASTM Standard E119.”
While the Indiana Homebuilders Association testified in support of this measure as it was passed out of committee, the bill never came up for a vote on the House floor before the Indiana legislative session adjourned until January 2018.
A large fire on February 4m 2017, at a Maplewood, New Jersey, apartment complex nearing completion has reignited controversy over the use of conventional light-frame construction. The Maplewood complex was being built by the same developer that built the Avalon Bay Edgewater property that burned down in 2015.
The mayor of Maplewood says that Avalon Bay followed all the right protocols and met or exceeded all the safety standards. Since the Edgewater fire, AvalonBay voluntarily increased the fire protection and suppression they installed in the Maplewood facility. However, those weren’t operational yet since the building was still under construction. The fire has spurred renewed efforts to change the building code in New Jersey.
Currently, there are four bills in the state legislature (A1634, A1611, A4738 and S864) from various interest groups calling for changes in the building codes. Local Maplewood politicians including Mayor Liz Lempert and Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes were among those who tried to get the laws changed two years ago, but those measures have gone nowhere over the intervening years. At the time of the Edgewater fire, SBCA wrote letters to elected officials, the fire service and building officials outlining the reasons why wood truss and wall panel framing was not to be blamed for the blaze.
The New Jersey legislature is currently embroiled in debates and hearings over the state’s budget and regularly scheduled committee work is not expected to commence until after May 11. It is possible action could be taken on any one of these bills prior to the legislative session ends in late June. SBCA will continue to monitor these bills in the event hearings are scheduled and will continue to work with its members and other groups to ensure these bills do not become law.