PA Legislature Advised to Significantly Change Building Code Adoption Process, Move Away from ICC Model Codes

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At the May 29, 2013 meeting of Pennsylvania’s Uniform Construction Code Review and Advisory Council (the RAC), the RAC approved recommendations to the General Assembly that, if adopted, would significantly alter the process for reviewing and adopting building and energy codes in the commonwealth. The RAC’s most significant recommendations are:

  • Allowing reevaluation of changes to prior versions of the code.  For example, in addition to evaluating the 2015 code changes, the RAC could reevaluate whether to adopt or exclude changes to the 2009 and 2012 codes, as well as the 2015 codes;
  • Allowing the RAC to evaluate the code changes based on its own discretion by eliminating the existing statutory obligation to base its decision on the impact on the health, safety and welfare of the public, the economic and financial impact, and technical feasibility; and,
  • Switching from a three-year review cycle to a six-year review cycle.

The RAC’s Legislative Working Group (LWG) chair stated that the outcome of the new process would be to move away from the model codes developed by the International Code Council (ICC), a nonprofit standard setting organization, towards  Pennsylvania-specific building codes.

The RAC is a 19 member panel appointed by the governor, vested with exclusive and binding decision-making power on the adoption of building and energy codes for the commonwealth, and the power to make official recommendations to the General Assembly on code and construction-related issues.

The current building code adoption process is statutorily mandated by the Uniform Construction Code. Pennsylvania’s construction codes are based on the model codes developed by the ICC, which are used in states and municipalities nationwide and are updated every three years.

When a new edition of the ICC codes are published, the RAC is required to evaluate changes from the prior edition of the codes based on their impact on the health, safety and welfare of the public, the economic and financial impact, and technical feasibility. The RAC then makes a binding decision as to which new code provisions should be adopted. Code provisions must receive a two-thirds majority of the entire RAC membership to be adopted. If a provision is not recommended for adoption by the required two-thirds majority, the relevant provisions of the prior version of the code remain in effect.

This process was adopted in 2011, with the enactment of Act 1-2011 (Act 1). Prior to Act 1, new code provisions were automatically adopted unless the RAC voted to exclude them, and only a majority vote was required.

In the spring of 2011, the RAC began to evaluate the more than 900 changes to the 2009 codes. The RAC held three public hearings, and public comments were also submitted. Ultimately, however, the RAC was unable to review every change individually, as required by Act 1. Instead, the RAC voted on the 2012 code changes as a whole. Adoption of the entirety of the 2012 code changes did not get a two-thirds majority. Therefore, the RAC rejected all of the 2012 code changes, and the 2009 codes remain in effect.

Many believe the 2012 process demonstrated that the Act 1 process is unworkable, and anticipate that future code changes will be unable to garner the super-majority needed for adoption. To address the issues with the 2012 review process, the RAC tasked its LWG with making recommendations for changes to the adoption process. These recommendations were adopted as official recommendations to the General Assembly by a vote of 14-0 with one abstention.

In addition to the above noted changes, the RAC made the following additional recommendations:

  1. On the alternating three years, do a “minor review,” allowing the RAC to adopt interim cycle changes that cannot wait until the next review.
  2. Increase the review period from publication of the new codes from 12 months to 24 months.
  3. Increase the terms of the RAC members from two years to three years.

The RAC also voted to recommend that the RAC members receive a per diem payment and reimbursement of travel expenses for attending RAC meetings.

Implementation of the RAC’s recommendations requires legislative action. The chair of the RAC stated that the chair, vice chair and chair of the LWG would meet with legislators to solicit sponsors for a bill enacting the RAC’s recommendations, with the goal of having a bill ready to be introduced before the next RAC meeting, set for September 25, 2013.