Greg Gianforte has been busy. And by busy, I mean attempting to overhaul and turn professional licensing requirements on their head in Montana. His office recently released the first draft of their Red Tape Reduction Initiative, which has been described as Gianforte’s cornerstone achievement for this upcoming legislative session. The bill is meant to remove some regulation involving state boards and state licensed professionals, but to my surprise in the first draft was the elimination of the license requirement for my profession: architecture.
Most of the general public might think of architects and luxurious design as synonymous. However, at the very minimum, our job is to provide safe and healthy building design solutions that fit within building, energy, ADA and fire code standards. State licenses are important, because the factors of building design in every state are different, especially those involving weather and geography, and we must ensure that anyone coming from another state meets the necessary requirements to design in Montana. If we lose our licenses or our state board, it opens the flood gates for the lowest bidder to come from across the country to design in Montana….no license needed. This will cost taxpayers more for design errors in publicly funded buildings, it will cost building owners and developers, and allow any architect around the country to immediately design Montana buildings creating unlimited, unregulated business competition for those of us already here.
Architects from warm, flat regions pose the biggest threat. Outside of the obvious heavy snow loads and frigid temperatures we endure for many months of the year, we live within a special wind zone because of our Chinook winds. Dealing with our unique topography, high winds, cold weather, and drifting snow in building design is not something that most architects outside of our region are familiar with. I grew up in the southeastern US so I know firsthand; there are many ways they design buildings in the south that would be impractical at best to construct here.
We first heard rumblings in July that professional license and state licensing board changes were coming and could be aggressive. As an architect working within Great Falls, I can confirm that most of my colleagues were blind-sided to find out that not only was our state architecture board in peril, but that our licensure process was at risk of being removed. The new bill will go to the next legislative session in January, potentially derailing our entire profession in the matter of seven months.
Building design is rigorous work, often requiring many days of long hours to see a project through to completion. We continuously give back to our communities by fostering development, volunteering for groups, organizations, and committees who need a local architect on board, and help local businesses succeed with bringing state-of-the-art design to our cities, towns, and rural areas. I know architects who are good, hard-working people that voted for Gianforte, because he had a business-first identity. Why would this administration turn on its own supporters, especially those who are heavily intertwined in the positive development of Montana communities?
Gianforte’s state website includes this excerpt on the Red Tape Reduction Act: “Revising, rolling back, and repealing unnecessary, burdensome regulations will help open Montana for business, grow our economy, increase access to greater opportunities, and create more good-paying Montana jobs.” One could easily conclude that he considers licensed architects as unnecessary and burdensome. This will open Montana to irresponsible development that will cost our taxpayers, close small businesses like the one I work for, and destroy the local fabric of our Montana communities. We need our cities and towns to be designed by people who live within them, not by out-of-state architects who ignore our best interests.