Sprin­kler bill would end lo­cal opt-out pro­vi­sion

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY DAVID HILL

AN­NAPO­LIS | A Se­nate bill that would re­quire all new homes to be built with in­door sprin­kler sys­tems is get­ting push-back from sen­a­tors who say it could in­trude on lo­cal build­ing codes set by county gov­ern­ments.

The Se­nate will con­tinue de­bate Wed­nes­day on the leg­is­la­tion, which would strip lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions of their abil­ity to opt out of state build­ing stan­dards that re­quire sprin­klers.

Spon­sors say the bill could save lives and pre­vent fire dam­age by forc­ing com­pli­ance from many ru­ral coun­ties that have de­clined the sprin­kler man­date.

But ru­ral Repub­li­cans say the bill could drive up build­ing costs and home prices and ar­gue it is an at­tack on lo­cal au­thor­ity as part of what they have char­ac­ter­ized as a “war on ru­ral Mary­land.” The House passed its own ver­sion of the bill this month.

“We can do this on our own,” said Sen. Richard F. Col­burn, Dorch­ester Re­pub­li­can. “We don’t need big gov­ern­ment telling us you’ve got to do this.”

The state most re­cently up­dated its build­ing stan­dards this year and is

re­quired to do so ev­ery three years to keep its stan­dards in line with the In­ter­na­tional Build­ing Code.

Lo­cal gov­ern­ments in Mary­land have six months to make lo­cal amend­ments as long as they do not pro­hibit code en­force­ment or weaken en­ergy con­ser­va­tion and ef­fi­ciency.

Much of the state has adopted stan­dards set by the state Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment that re­quire sprin­klers in all new houses, apart­ments and other res­i­den­tial dwellings.

How­ever, many ju­ris­dic­tions — mostly in Western Mary­land and on the East­ern Shore — opted out of the re­quire­ment in 2009.

Sen. Roy P. Dyson, St. Mary’s Demo­crat and the bill’s spon­sor, says his bill is not an at­tack on lo­cal decision-mak­ing but is rather de­signed to help fire­fight­ers and dras­ti­cally in­crease one’s odds of sur­viv­ing a house fire.

Mr. Dyson, whose South­ern Mary­land dis­trict in­cludes many ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, said fire of­fi­cials have backed the pro­posal and es­ti­mate sprin­kler in­stal­la­tion would add only about 1 per­cent to the cost of a house while po­ten­tially sav­ing thou­sands in dam­age.

“This isn’t a gov­ern­ment bill. This is meant to save our lives,” he said Tues­day dur­ing a lengthy floor de­bate. “If you’re in that be­d­room at 10 o’clock at night, and this is when most of these fires hap­pen . . . this is so im­por­tant.”

Nonethe­less, op­po­nents have ques­tioned his sprin­kler cost es­ti­mates and ar­gue the bill could have many hid­den costs in the forms of main­te­nance and po­ten­tial water dam­age.

While crit­i­cism came largely from the 12 Repub­li­cans in the 47-mem­ber cham­ber, Sen. Delores G. Kel­ley, Bal­ti­more County Demo­crat, also ques­tioned the bill.

Ms. Kel­ley said most Mary­lan­ders live in older homes and won’t be af­fected by the pro­posal and ar­gued that coun­ties and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties should be left alone to de­cide their stance.

“Why make all of that dif­fer­ence at a time when the hous­ing mar­ket is prac­ti­cally down to noth­ing?” she asked. “We are too in­tru­sive, and we ought to let the lo­cals have their say.”

BAR­BARA L. SAL­IS­BURY/THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Franklin Ven­tura, 5, plays in the court­yard of the East Falls apart­ment com­plex in Falls Church on Tues­day. Mild tem­per­a­tures con­tinue through­out the re­gion, pro­vid­ing plenty of op­por­tu­nity for out­door ac­tiv­i­ties.

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