A surprising day at the Texas Legislature

I covered my first political race for a daily newspaper in 1975. Bully Mayor Frank Rizzo of Philadelphia won reelection. Since then I’ve covered zoning boards, city councils, legislatures in several states and even events at the White House.

But I saw something today that I’ve never seen before. And it wasn’t pretty.

Let’s start at the beginning.

For those who have followed my Watchdog Nation since it was created in 2008, you know it’s about showing you how easy it is to protect yourself against corporate and criminal bullies – if you know what you’re doing. The impetus for the consumer rights movement came about when I had personal problems of my own.

The first roofer I hired roofed the wrong house.

The second roofer I hired ended up in jail, convicted of criminal theft after he scammed 86 people for $671,000. (Read that story here.) Surely, I had to learn how to protect myself before I could show others how to do it.

So scamming roofers became a pet peeve of mine. (It’s the biggest section in my national-award-winning book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong.)

Over the years, I’ve developed a fondness for the North Texas Roofing Contractors Association. In the absence of a state licensing requirement for Texas roofers, this trade association promotes its own ethics code and pushes hard for honesty in this troubled industry. I even helped them with their video. (Watch here.)

So when the NTRCA told me that Senate Bill 311, sponsored by Sen. John Carona of Dallas, was designed to bring licensing requirements, I cheered!

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong shows you how to protect yourself. The book, now in its third 2013 edition, won two awards for social change.

Senator John Carona (Photo courtesy of Ramparts360.com)

Today, I traveled to Austin to appear before the Texas Senate Business & Commerce Committee, chaired by Sen. Carona, a Republican. I wanted to testify in favor of his bill, something I could never do as a working journalist. Now I can, though. So I did.

At first, Carona was my hero. He stood tall in the committee room at the State Capitol. He made me proud as he strongly argued in favor of his own Senate Bill 311. He apologized when he took extra time to explain it and a companion bill.

When early witnesses criticized his bill, he staunchly defended it. Forcefully. But then something happened.

After the first hour, he announced that “I hear you” to the bills’ critics and said he would drop the roofer licensing portion. He announced he would settle for roofer registration only, probably at a cost of $100 a year for each Texas roofer. Roofers would register and people could easily track them down if something went wrong through this new state registry. At least that’s something.

But then an hour later, after hearing more testimony, he announced he was dropping the meager registration requirement, too.

Keep in mind that Texas licenses electricians and plumbers, and I never hear complaints about them. But roofers? I hear about roofing scams, especially among the elderly, all the time.

So by the time I got up to testify after more than 2 ½ hours of watching him water down his own bill, I was confused. I testified that, after watching what had happened, I was lowering my standards from licensing to registration, a weaker version of enforcement, but at least something designed to protect Texans from roofing scams. Please at least enact the registration requirement, I implored.

Carona told the packed hearing room, “I’ve lowered my standards just this morning.” The room, filled with dark-suited lobbyists, erupted in laughter.

Watchdog Nation founder Dave Lieber testifies at the State Capitol.

Watchdog Nation founder Dave Lieber testifies at the State Capitol.

Imagine that. The chairman who forcefully pushes his own bill at 8 a.m, waters it down by 9 a.m., then waters it down even more at 10 a.m. Then less than an hour later, it appears, he has given up on enacting the real teeth in his bill almost entirely. And this is his own committee!

Here’s the takeaway. If you are a Texan and you are hoping the 2013 Legislature will enact new laws designed to protect consumers from corporate bullies and individual scammers, think again. This is a Tea Party legislature, perhaps the most conservative legislature in the nation. What that means, to use the language of these legislators, is that they won’t do anything in this session to “increase the footprint of government.”

That means more Texans will get scammed, and their state government does not care.

Final note: I heard a lot of excuses why roofers shouldn’t be regulated like other professions in today’s testimony.

One witness said consumers should be smarter. (Well, it’s kinda complicated to pick a reputable roofer, as I learned.)

Another said that with hundreds of thousands of roofs put on in Texas each year, only a small portion were scammed. (First off, it’s not so small, as my mail indicates. And second, that’s like saying there are a lot of banks but only a few get robbed. Notice that banks still have security measures in place – bars, guards, alarms. And none of that exists in the roofing industry.)

Still another said that any expansion of government in any way is bad for Texas.

The bill isn’t dead yet, but it suffers from severe poisoning. By its own sponsor.

After the hearing, I gave Senator Carona a copy of my book.

God only knows: I hope he reads it.

 

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments

  1. Kim Pewitt-Jones says:

    Thanks for taking on a most worthy issue and reporting these important facts about one of our legislators!

  2. Welcome Dave to the fun ! Now you know why I like it so much. It is real life at warp speed. I testified last Tuesday, same committee, for one of Senator Carona’s bills. Got a personal compliment from the senator for the hard work Funeral Consumers Alliance does for consumers. It will be your turn soon. Hang in there Big Watchdog !

  3. Nice post and Really nice information:-)

  4. This is what most expect from our legislators, not just in Texas, but everywhere in the USA. The conservative takeover is pretty much complete. The country has a lot of work to do to dig us out of the hole they put us into, and they make it worse every chance they get. F the TP.

  5. Shirley Bond says:

    Well done Dave, We need more sensible people like you to stand up to the politicians.
    Thank you

  6. This is a great and most helpful article, even as it lowers the smidgen of faith I had left in any politician anywhere at any time. You’re out there fighting, not letting up on the pols, and not letting down your followers. Thanks, Dave.

  7. Kevin Linberg says:

    State licensing is a scam meant to give one group who hires a lobbyist an unfair advantage over others who are mostly trying to earn an honest living.

  8. Dave Lieber Dave Lieber says:

    Actually, quite the opposite is true. I’ve seen it played out time after time. We need protection from the fools who can’t be bothered to do the right thing. That’s why we have driver’s licenses. So only those who learn the law can gain the privilege of driving. That’s why homebuilders across America (but not in Texas) are licensed. Homes here, more often than not, are poorly made and do not stand up to the elements as they should. (Yes, I had to sue my homebuilder along with thousands of others.) Licenses protect us from bad stuff. We need protection from bad stuff because the world is not always so kind and gentle.

  9. David Kettler says:

    If only it was that simple. The people who are pushing for roofers to be licensed are the big roofing contractors. They want to do this to drive their competition out of business so they can raise their rates and their profits. The states that do have roofers licenses all have much higher rates than the states that do not. Nationwide the average is 8% higher. Among the gulf states the rate is 17% higher than in Texas. Licensing roofers will cost Texas consumers almost a billion dollars a year in higher costs. In 2011 The Texas Department of Insurance received around 100 complaints against roofers. Even if you assume that all those complaints were valid and even if you assume that a license would eliminate all such complaints, that means that Texas consumers would be paying 10 million dollars per complaint. This is just one of many problems with this bill.

  10. Dave Lieber Dave Lieber says:

    That’s a lot of balderdash. It came out in testimony that the cost to register a roofer (licensing will be dropped and registration, if we are lucky, will be in.), according to the Texas Department of Insurance estimate, will be about $100 a year. If a roofer can’t afford $100 a year (and I don’t care if he’s one man in a truck or a giant company) then I don’t want to hire that roofer anyway.
    Second, I challenge you to produce where you got the preposterous figure of $1 billion a year. Are we now in the business of making things up? Such a nice, sweet round number. Phooey. Your numbers are as suspect as your logic.
    And also, you cite the Texas Dept of Insurance. People do not complain to TDI when they get scammed by a roofer. They complain to the BBB. They complain to the Texas Attorney General. They complain to their local district or county attorney. And they complain to me! And I for one am sick of hearing about people getting ripped off when this is so easily preventable.

  11. karl meisenbach says:

    Angie’s List.com (private company) doing a far better job than the government at spreading the word on good, or bad, contractors.
    http://www.angieslist.com/in-the-press.htm

  12. Dave Lieber Dave Lieber says:

    Yes, that is true. But Angie’s List is a pay subscription process. A government registry is free to all.

  13. Dave,
    Thanks for your support. As a small business owner in North Texas and member of the NTRCA, I have been on-board with licensing in our state for several years. It’s amazing to me that any legitimate roofing company that works in Texas on a regular basis would oppose licensing. It is likely that those that oppose are the same companies that do not want to be held accountable for their work or perhaps they just don’t know better because they are new to the roofing industry. Either way, this is a good thing for consumers. That should be the focus for all roofers (unless they have something to hide). Good Luck to all those involved in this bill & God Bless!!

  14. Dave Lieber Dave Lieber says:

    This is great, Kyle.

  15. I support the licensing and registration BUT this entire article was only focused on roofers being the scammers. Home owner’s are ten times more likely to be scammers than roofers. With the rising cost of insurance premiums and 2% deductibles in Texas, no body wants to pay their deductible. Home owner’s file a claim and the insurance company gives them a huge check. Then, they take several bids and choose the cheapest one and not only not pay their deductible but also pocket a portion of the insurance proceeds which is illegal under Texas and Federal law. In result of this, our company has been forced to give out “bids” and we’ve lost millions of dollars in profit in the last 8 years. It’s impossible to get Texas home owner’s to pay their deductible. The amount of money that home owner’s get scammed on every years is miniscule compared to the millions upon millions of dollars home owner’s never pay every year in deductibles. The industry definitely needs to be better regulated. There’s no question there. All I’m saying is if you are going to regulate the industry, let’s start with enforcing the laws that are already there before we create new ones so companies can foot the bill and earn what is rightfully theirs.