Bill Would Provide Incentives for States to Enforce Stronger Building Codes

By | November 14, 2007

States that already have a mandatory statewide building code and have enforcement measures in place would be eligible for an additional 4 percent of federal disaster relief funds under recently introduced federal legislation.

U.S. Reps. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., are cosponsoring the Safe Building Codes Act of 2007 that would create incentives for states to adopt and enforce heightened construction standards to help protect communities against damaging natural disasters.

In addition to the 4 percent disaster relief funding for pre-qualified states, this legislation would enable states to utilize existing pre-disaster mitigation grants to administer building code programs prior to the occurrence of a disaster.

A preliminary list compiled by the Florida-based Institute of Business and Home Safety and some of its partners suggests that 13 states are in good position to receive incentives outlined in the legislation. Another nine states and the District of Columbia could meet the criteria with minor legislative modifications. The remaining 28 states currently have no mandatory statewide codes.

An IBHS spokesperson said the list is not definitive. She said the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be the deciding organization, but has not yet issued its requirements so there is no clear picture of which states will qualify.

Congresswoman Matsui said strong building codes serve as the backbone of a community’s preparedness against natural disasters.

“As we have seen in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the collapse of the Minneapolis bridge, we need to make investments in the buildings and structures we rely upon,” Matsui said. “My top priority is keeping my constituents safe, and my legislation will help to preserve property and promote public safety.”

Matsui said California is experiencing unprecedented population growth, and the building standards established now will lay the groundwork for generations to come.

Research IBHS conducted in the wake of Hurricane Charley in 2004 in Charlotte County, Fla., showed homes built after the 1996 Florida Building Code was enacted experienced a 60 percent reduction in the frequency of property losses and a 42 percent reduction in the severity of losses.

The Louisiana State University Hurricane Center has estimated that of the $10 billion in damage to homes in Louisiana, modern building codes would have spared 80 percent of the damage.

Rep. Diaz-Balart said Hurricane Andrew demonstrated in Florida that building codes do matter. “This legislation will reward states that have building codes that prepare for the threat of a natural disaster. Our goal is to make families and communities safer by being smart with American taxpayer dollars,” he added.

Justin Roth, senior federal affairs director of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, said the legislation is a smart idea. “Homeowners with homes built according to stronger codes will see less damage to their homes following storms, while taxpayers will also save money by not having to pay out as much money in future disaster aide to those states that have stronger codes,” he said.

John Prible, of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, said his organization believes that enactment of stronger building codes is an integral part of solving the natural disaster insurance crisis facing many communities.

“We have not heard from any state organization that is worried about federal intervention,” Prible said. “In fact, we believe that by providing strong incentives in the form of additional disaster relief funding for states that enact and enforce a mandatory comprehensive building code, this legislation does an excellent job of providing strong incentives for states to adopt building codes while avoiding federal intervention.”

Other organizations that have endorsed the Safe Building Codes Act include Allstate Insurance Co., American Insurance Association, Farmers Insurance Group of Companies, Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, Financial Services Roundtable, International Code Council, Liberty Mutual Insurance, MetLife, National Fire Protection Association, Nationwide Insurance, NeighborWorks America, Property and Casualty Insurers Association of America, St. Paul Travelers, Simpson Strong-Tie Co., Solutia, State Farm Insurance Companies, The Hartford and USAA Insurance.

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