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Contractors given a break

State halves classroom hours

Experienced contractors in Oregon are being given a break on the number of hours they have to spend in continuing education classes to keep their license.

Instead of having to take 16 hours every two years, contractors who have been licensed for more than six years can now spend eight hours in the classroom. Three of those hours involve mandatory training from the Oregon Construction Contractors Board to keep them abreast of changes in the law, regulations and business practices.

Senate Bill 783 affords contractors the opportunity to select subject matter for the remaining five hours that is pertinent to their professional specialty. In the past, continuing education classes might or might not apply to the contactor’s area of expertise. For example, a carpenter specializing in kitchen cabinetry might be required to sit through an instructional video on how to correctly wrap a vapor barrier around the house.

“People had to take time off work and pay to learn something about a topic that had nothing to do with their own career,” said Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, a former contractor who supported the legislation.

Last week, he joined Craig Smith, administrator for the State of Oregon Construction Contractors Board, at a meeting in The Dalles, to educate local contractors on the statutory changes.

The 16 full hours of continuing education will be required of contractors who have held a license for six or fewer consecutive years. The cost to attend the state-required training of three hours is $45 and contractors are also required to pay $325 every two years for a license.

Smith said the success of a more customized program — the new rules go into effect Jan. 1, 2014 — will hinge on participation from experts in the field. He said a wider variety of classes can only be offered if there are teachers in private industry who step forward to offer instruction.

“We’ll have to wait to see what the market brings us,” said Smith.

SB 783 was sponsored by the Senate Committee on Business and Transportation at the request of the Oregon Home Builders Association. The new standards apply to residentially endorsed licenses.

Smith said the legislation is fairly complex and the contractors’ board will spend the next several weeks studying the issues to determine where new rules need to be drafted. He said updates will be provided to those in the field as these guidelines are developed.

“We’re still studying the bill to determine what all the nuances are,” he said.

Smith said there are currently 34,665 active contractor licenses in the state and 28,358 of those are residentially endorsed.

He said the number of licensed contractors has declined significantly from a high of 47,000 in 2007. The economic recession in 2008 led to a record number of foreclosures and stalled new home construction so that number dropped dramatically.

Smith said the market for new homes remains “stale” despite a slight uptick in the number of licenses issued in February 2013, the first increase in five years. He said some contractors around the state, especially in higher population centers, are reporting a significant increase in home improvements and remodeling jobs.

“People want homes and the demand is there,” he said. “But being able to borrow money is a difficult issue right now.”

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