Editorials

Idaho Legislature wants to make minimum standards the standard for all building

A construction crew works on a house in the Painted Ridge subdivision southeast of Boise. A bill sought by builders that has passed the Idaho House would require uniform building codes for houses across Idaho.
A construction crew works on a house in the Painted Ridge subdivision southeast of Boise. A bill sought by builders that has passed the Idaho House would require uniform building codes for houses across Idaho. sberg@IdahoStatesman.com

Critics of the Legislature like to point out Idaho lawmakers’ propensity to tell cities how to do their business, even as those same lawmakers argue for local control when railing against federal government mandates. From banning regulation of ride-sharing services to not allowing local-option sales taxes, the Legislature does like to keep cities on a short leash.

Legislators are now proposing to tell cities they can’t write tougher building codes than those set by the statewide authority. The bill has passed the House and is now before the Senate. Our gripe isn’t about hypocrisy. It’s about a bad idea.

The argument in favor of the bill is ensuring that the state does not create a hodgepodge of differing codes that are hard for builders and citizens to track. We appreciate that argument. Cities shouldn’t be different for the sake of being different. But neither should we be uniform for the sake of being uniform. The goal should be what is best for residents of our state and cities, not what’s most convenient for builders.

There are real differences in this state, and in community needs and goals, and the law should be flexible enough to reflect that. Boise is not Dubois. More urban cities may well adopt measures that rural lawmakers do not like or agree with. But isn’t that up to those cities and their citizens and their builders to decide? It might even cost residents more to buy homes that are built to higher standards. Shouldn’t local residents and their reps decide?

To talk specifics, Boise and other communities have codes that encourage more aggressive energy conservation than is required in the statewide codes. One day, the entire state may have the same energy standards as Boise. Is the city supposed to wait for the followers to catch up?

The state codes set a minimum that all municipalities must accept, beyond which they need not do more. But that floor shouldn’t also be the ceiling.

Officials do say that existing codes will be grandfathered in, which is good, and that the proposed legislation does allow communities to tailor their ordinances specifically for geography (for example, seismic and flood risk) and climate (snow loads). But that sensible differential simply argues for keeping the existing policy, which gives communities the flexibility to set sensible standards for their towns and their residents.

Unsigned editorials represent the opinions of the Statesman Editorial Board.

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