Codes & standards: We all have a voice

By Julie Ruth, American Architectural Manufacturers Association
December 5, 2011
COMMERCIAL : CODES & STANDARDS

We live in a democracy that gives individuals the right to express their opinions and defend their views. This fact often leads to contentious debate and demonstrations such as the Occupy protests taking place across the country, but it allows everyone to be heard, a concept we Americans hold dear to our hearts.

The same is true in regards to how we develop construction codes in this country. In most developed countries, the national government determines mandatory building construction regulations. In the United States, however, each jurisdiction can choose whether or not to adopt one or more construction codes. States have the right to make that decision individually. If a state does not adopt a statewide code, then the local jurisdiction—whether it be a county, city, town or village — has the right to make that decision. Along the way, all affected parties have the opportunity to express their views on the proposed code through public hearings, comment periods, etc.

The construction codes are not dictated to us, although there have been attempts by various federal agencies to change that.

Similarly, development of the International Codes—the most widely used construction codes in the U.S— is based on a process that permits all interested parties to express their opinion. That is a fundamental tenet of the ICC code development process and the reason the ICC, and its predecessor agencies, have refrained from charging for participation. Any individual can submit a code change proposal or come to the code change hearings to express his or her viewpoint.

The International Code Council board of directors recently upheld that democratic process when it voted to retain the assembly vote at the code development hearings. In an effort to shorten the hearing process, it had been recommended the assembly vote be eliminated. Although assembly votes are not taken very often, there have been times when they have allowed people to express their strong disagreement with one or more committee decisions. The ICC board of directors recognized the value of this option and voted to retain it.

The board also established a target date of 2015 for the implementation of remote voting during code development hearings. This would  permit eligible members of the ICC to watch the hearings via an Internet connection and cast their vote on the code change proposals from a remote location. As one member of the ICC board of directors said, "If they can do this for American Idol, we should be able to figure out how to do it for code development."

The intent behind remote voting is to permit a greater number of eligible ICC members to participate in the development of the construction codes they will enforce.

From time to time, there is discussion about unifying our industry's position within the code development process. It certainly is true that when we speak with one voice, we are more likely to be credible and persuasive. There has been more than one occasion when our industry has been told by an ICC committee to "work this out within your industry and then come back and tell us what you have decided." When we do that, the ICC is much more likely to listen and, quite often, we achieve our goal. When we cannot agree, and bring our disagreements before the ICC, we confuse the issue. We force the ICC to make the decision. Sometimes it makes good decisions. And sometimes, it does not.

So yes, as an industry, we can be more effective when we agree on common goals, work together to achieve them and speak with one voice. But in doing so, we also risk silencing or marginalizing those whose opinions differ from the majority. The truth is that attempts to impose one mindset on an entire population do not work.

The First Amendment guarantees the right to freedom of speech for every American, whether they are talking with their neighbors, writing an article or working on a code revision. 

This column is brought to you by the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, Schaumburg, Ill., www.aamanet.org. Julie Ruth can be contacted through AAMA at 847/303-5664 or via e-mail at julruth@aol.com.