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Building code legislation gains support

Building code legislation gains support

WASHINGTON—Backers of a measure that would encourage states to adopt more stringent building codes say they hope last week's hearing on the bill will build momentum toward passing it next year.

The measure has strong support across the property/casualty insurance industry. Every major property/casualty trade group belongs to the Washington-based BuildStrong Coalition, which includes individual insurers and noninsurance groups such as the American Institute of Architects and the National Fire Protection Assn.

Eight witnesses appeared before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management last week to discuss the Safe Building Code Incentive Act of 2011. None spoke against the measure.

Among other things, the bipartisan measure that Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., introduced last year would authorize the president to increase the maximum contributions for a major disaster by 4% of the estimated aggregate amount of grants under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act if the affected state has and is actively enforcing an approved state building code at the time a major disaster is declared. To be eligible for the increased federal funds, the state would have to submit its building code to the president for approval. To be approved, the state code would have to be consistent with the most recent version of a nationally recognized model building code, have been adopted within six years of the most recent version of the nationally recognized code, and use that national code as a minimum standard.


Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., chairman of the subcommittee, said “study after study” has shown that investment in mitigation saves federal money. “Certainly I believe this is a very important issue,” Rep. Denham said in an interview after the hearing. He noted that California's building codes have proved to be quite effective and, “if replicated across the nation, it could not only save money but, and more importantly, lives.”

He said he would like the subcommittee members to see the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety's Chester County, S.C., facility. A video of a test of roofing on houses subject to high wind was presented at the hearing.

“It certainly seems there is support on both sides of the aisle” for the legislation, Rep. Denham said.

Proponents say they hope support can be broadened in the next year, given the current session's shrinking calendar.

“We're very focused on next year, and laying down a strong predicate is very important,” said Julie Rochman, president and CEO of the Tampa, Fla.-based Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. “Strong, well-enforced building codes provide a level playing field of minimum standards that protect homes and businesses against both man-made and natural hazards.”

During her testimony in favor of the bill, Ms. Rochman said the IBHS thinks about 20 states' codes would currently qualify, or would qualify with some minor changes to their laws and regulations, for the additional funding.


Jimi Grande, senior vp in the National Assn. of Mutual Insurance Cos.' Washington office, said the issue is a critical one for the industry and its profitability.

“As the entire P/C industry has learned over the past few years, one of the ways for us to continue to be successful is to harden buildings,” Mr. Grande said. “We can't stop the storm, but we can harden the buildings.”

Effective building codes are essential to an appropriate long-term hazard mitigation strategy, said Frank Nutter, president of the Washington-based Reinsurance Assn. of America. “Obviously, reinsurers bear the largest share of catastrophe losses in most events.”