Small contractors concerned with consumer protection bill

Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 8:03 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - A Vermont bill making its way through the Senate is designed to protect residents from scams or fake home contractors, But not all builders are on board with it.

“This bill, if passed as written, will drive small business out of Vermont from the small contractor perspective,” said Keith Fifield, a small contractor who operates alone on small jobs.

Fifield empathizes with those who have been scammed by illegitimate contractors in the past but believes the consumer protection bill is overreaching.

“I think they are going after reputable businesses like myself, and we are having to pay the price of a few bad apples,” Fifield said.

He says as written, the bill requires a contractor to register with the Office of Professional Regulation if they are performing projects over $3,500.

Supporters say the idea behind the measure is a one-stop-shop for consumers to look into who they are looking to hire.

“They would have a place to look to see if this person is registered and in good standing with the state,” said Rep. R. Scott Campbell, D-St. Johnsbury, the bill’s sponsor.

Campbell says the state decided licensure was not the best idea, but registration was.

“And part of that registration is also demonstrating that you have liability insurance and you pay your taxes and things like that,” Campbell said.

Campbell says the registry will also include contractors’ certifications.

“So, the registration would be required, but then they would also be allowed and encouraged to obtain certifications in various specialties in construction,” he said. “By having a list, not only can we tell contractors what’s going on with codes and standards and what they should be paying attention to, we can also offer them opportunities to get education and certifications that will improve their skills and also provide something that they can post with their registration on the registry.”

But Fifield sees more fees and more hoops to jump through as a one-man show and disagrees with the mandatory contract between consumer and contractor. He says the registry is a good way for the state to reach all contractors for rule or safety changes, but he fears overregulation.

“I am just against the part of the bill that says this is how you are going to run your business and you are going to be required to do this and pay a fee,” he said.

Fifield says at the very least, he hopes that lawmakers consider small contractors and the different conditions they might operate under when working on this bill.

Campbell says it’s not trying to drive anyone out, but encourage those working as a contractor to grow or get better at their craft, and advertise that.

“I view it as a way of really raising the profession in construction to a higher level,” he said.

The House last month approved H.157 and it is now in the Senate’s Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee.

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