After weeks of speculation about how he would be able to do it unilaterally, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced he has signed an executive order to extend the life of the state agency that oversees the plumbing industry.
The Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners was not reauthorized by lawmakers during the regular session of the Legislature. That led to widespread speculation of a summer special session aimed at extending the agency’s operations without making any of the proposed modernization changes that were debated this year.
The Texas Constitution gives the 181 members of the Legislature jurisdiction over state agencies, including the governor’s office. But in this instance, the governor is acting on his own to continue safety regulations for plumbers, who play a critical role in safe drinking water, sewage lines, natural gas connections in homes and businesses, and more.
The day after the executive order was announced, a rally was held at the Capitol to thank the governor for taking action. The plumbers who rallied on the South Steps of the Capitol had originally planned the event to try to pressure Abbott to do something about the situation. But after the executive order was issued, it became a “thank you” rally for the efforts.
To do it himself, Abbott is legally hanging his hat on two things.
First, in what some described as “a stretch,” Abbott is relying on the disaster declaration for the region of the state ravaged by Hurricane Harvey two years ago. In announcing the executive order, he pointed to “the magnitude of what still must be rebuilt is reflected in the more than $10 billion of federal funds that are newly or nearly available to Texas for areas impacted by Hurricane Harvey.”
"A qualified workforce of licensed plumbers throughout the state, including from areas not directly affected by Hurricane Harvey, will be essential as those funds are being invested in crucial infrastructure, medical facilities, living facilities, and other construction projects," Abbott said.
Coupled with that, a law was passed this year that says “the governor may, by executive order, take any action necessary to ensure each state agency …is able to respond to a hurricane.”
The legislation that failed during the regular session would have moved the Plumbing Board to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation with a goal of speeding up the licensing process.
A review of the Plumbing Board’s operations found that it was not running efficiently at a time when there is a shortage of plumbers in the state and the rest of the country. On average, a person seeking a plumbing license will wait 8 months to get one because of the slowness of the agency.
"Maintaining these certifications and licenses will continue to be the top priority of our organization," said Alicia Dover, Executive Director of the Plumbing Heating and Cooling Contractors Association of Texas.
"We appreciate the opportunity to work with the Governor’s office on this important announcement and hopeful resolution," Dover said. "Appropriate licensing and oversight of Texas plumbers is valued by the responsible individuals who comprise our industry and is relied upon by the Texans that utilize their services.”