GELSSA to Georgia lawmakers: Table low-voltage licensure bill

Detractors say bill would increase the number of contractors and false dispatches as well
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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

ATLANTA—John Loud, the immediate past president of the Georgia Electronic Life Safety & Systems Association, is rallying support to defeat a bill that would dramatically expand the number of Georgia contractors eligible to perform low-voltage installations.

At issue is whether the requirements for earning qualification to conduct low-voltage installations will remain intact or be dismantled. The bill, introduced in January, would permit those with Electrical Contractor Class II licensure—a high-voltage installation certification—to perform low-voltage contracting, which encompasses fire and security systems, without obtaining the statewide low-voltage license that’s currently required.

Loud, who also is owner and president of Kennesaw, Ga.-based Loud Security, is concerned that the bill is being “fast-tracked” through the state legislature, and that, if passed, it would “massively undo” recent gains made by the organization to curb false alarms. Last year, GELSSA played a major role in securing the passage of an enhanced call verification bill in Georgia.

“When you realize that another 8,000-plus contractors are going to be installing life safety systems, you see how that might increase the chaos of false dispatches,” Loud said. “This is exactly why we had legislation passed last year—to reduce false dispatches.”

Currently, about 2,000 contractors in Georgia have Class I low-voltage unrestricted licenses, allowing them to perform all manner of low-voltage installations, while another 1,319 are licensed to do low-voltage alarm installations.

The bill seeks to do away with a current Georgia provision requiring that all contractors spend one year in an apprenticeship capacity performing low-voltage installations, Loud said. If enacted, the bill would permit the state’s 8,367 Class II license holders to “engage in all types of low-voltage contracting without restriction and without obtaining a license as a low-voltage contractor,” according to the bill’s text.

Asked whether the apprenticeship requirement should be kept in place, Loud was unequivocal. “Absolutely,” he said, adding that earning low-voltage licensure in Georgia, in addition to the year of experience doing such installations, involves an open book test which “requires you to go through all the different codes and standards pertaining to life safety factors and low-voltage system construction and design. That better protects owners of buildings and subscribers, both residential and commercial.”

Loud acknowledged that his push to ask legislators to slow down and re-examine the provisions in the bill is also shaped by concerns about the possibility of a drastically altered competitive landscape for low-voltage contractors.

The next step, he said, involves a meeting, scheduled for Feb. 6, with state Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cummings, who co-authored the bill. At the meeting, Loud hopes to determine the roots of the legislation and encourage lawmakers to table the bill as written. The bill is set to go to the Senate floor for a vote, though a date has yet to be determined. If passed, the bill would take effect July 1.

As Loud sees it, one of two possible outcomes would be progress.

“Either the bill will be killed as written and it will go away for now, or we can work with the group behind this to develop a better understanding of what they want, and find some compromise that maybe requires education units that will be good for them and good for us moving forward,” he said. These steps would make for “a far better professional, and better educated, organization and offer better direct delivery to building owners.”