THE KITCHEN

My garbage disposal is making strange sounds. As Mister Fix-It, I can get down on my hands and knees, lean in under the sink and repair the problem. Probably just a monkey wrench or beer can got stuck in the grinder.

There’s just one problem: I can no longer get down on my hands and knees, lean in under the sink and do much of anything. Or if I do get down, there is the problem of getting up again. So I do what anyone who is not a plumber does: I call a plumber.

But wait. There is a new and needless problem: The Texas Legislature, in its wisdom, stopped debating school bathrooms and, in effect, is allowing anyone to be a plumber — no more licensing, testing, etc. Call yourself a plumber in Texas and — ta-da! — you’re a plumber.

Specifically, the Lege did not renew the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners, a state agency that employed dozens and generated $5.2 million in revenue in 2017. The lawmakers also did not renew the state plumbing code. Thus, because of sunset laws, the board must shut down by September 2020. And the Legislature will not reconvene until 2021.

Texas has about 58,000 licensed plumbers, but the growing population and rebuilding after Hurricane Harvey has led to a shortage, according to a report by the Sunset Commission.

This might seem an insignificant matter, unless, of course, scalding water is spewing all over your kitchen from the broken water heater, and the guy from Wrench Hands Inc. is thumbing through his manual mumbling, “Heater, heater, water heater.” Plumbers urged Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session of the Legislature to keep the board of plumbing examiners alive. They say tests, up-date courses and licensing are necessary for the safety of Texans who have indoor plumbing.

Those with Machiavellian tendencies might feel such testing and screening could also result in fewer plumbers and less competition. Also, a study by two professors from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University reveals “restrictions from occupational licensing can result in up to 2.85 million fewer jobs nationwide, with an annual cost to consumers of $203 billion.”

To protect consumers from various scams, incompetence and downright thievery, we have the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. Today its 180 employees with a budget of more than $5.4 million oversee other regulatory agencies that keep an eye on auctioneers, manufactured housing, professional boxing and wrestling, tow trucks, vehicle storage facilities, industrialized housing and buildings, electricians and boilers, including those used in nuclear plants. Air conditioning contractors, private personnel agencies, career counseling and talent agencies are also under the agency’s regulations.

There are 34 professions handled by this state agency. Did I mention used automotive parts recyclers, dog and cat breeders (dogs must be walked daily) and water well drillers?

We also have personal licenses, like for drivers. Your car or Abrams Main Battle Tank should have a license plate. Don’t complain. Even James Bond had to get a license to kill.

A touchy license is the one to carry a gun. For instance, you have to be 21 years of age unless on active military duty. If you are a druggie or an alcoholic, no luck. If on your application the return address is: Cellblock 24, The Walls, Huntsville, TX, you may endure a more thorough background check.

You can’t get a license to carry a spear, machete, bomb or rocket. But a 1950 law was changed in 2017 allowing Texans to carry, possess or use a switchblade with a blade 5.5 inches or shorter, Bowie knife and shotguns if the barrel isn’t sawed off. For these weapons, you don’t need a license, just a target.

Getting back to the plumbers, supporters for abolishing their board say most people get plumbers and other fixers through word of mouth, ads and/or those guides for consumers. Last week I got, unsolicited, a booklet: 2019 Harris County Texas Five Star Rated Home Services Review. On the booklet’s back cover, in tiny type, at the bottom is: “Each contractor identified in the guidebook has paid a fee …” Pay to play, and no pay, no rating.

Wait! This just in: Gov. Greg Abbott, citing Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts, signed an executive order on June 13 that extends the State Board of Plumbing Examiners until May 31, 2021. After that, call yourself a plumber.

Lynn Ashby is a Houston-based columnist. Contact him at ashby2@comcast.net.

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