|Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO|
State Electrical Inspection Decision Defies Law
In 2008, the Iowa Legislature approved a law to protect all Iowa property by establishing the electrical inspection program. In an attempt to ensure the safety of farmers, their families, employees and livestock, non-residential farm buildings were specifically included in the electrical inspection program.
The legislation allowed farmers to do their own electrical work on their grain bins, exterior buildings and feeding operations, etc., but the Iowa Electrical Licensing Board must inspect the installation and ensure the work was performed properly. Insurance companies, electricians and public safety personnel applauded this effort that protects everyone who comes in contact with the electrical work.
This simple step has yielded great dividends. Since the inception of the program, records from the state fire marshal’s office show that farm electrical fires are down by 35 percent over the past three years — saving resources, livestock, grain and protecting farmers and firefighters.
So it was with great shock when retiring Public Safety Commissioner Larry Noble issued a directive effective on July 1 to halt the electrical permitting and inspection of farm facilities. This is a direct violation of Iowa law.
Many large farming organizations such as the Iowa Farm Bureau falsely maintain the electrical board itself initiated the rule to include farms under the program. The truth is the Iowa electrical inspection program was designed in 2008 by the Legislature to include farms, and this fact was clarified with Senate file 478, which was clean-up legislation in 2010 that gave a definition of farms.
When a person looks at Iowa Code Section 103.22(2) you clearly see that farmers and their employees are exempt from needing to be licensed electricians when installing electrical work, but nothing states that farm facilities are exempt from permitting and inspections.
Allegations that the electrical board overreached its authority by including farms in the electrical inspection program are unfounded, and the actions by Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration to rescind a rule in direct defiance of Iowa Code is questionable at best.
Other arguments from opponents of the inspection program claim that permit and inspection fees are excessive. The electrical board staff again researched fire marshal data showing only a handful of permit fees as high as $600 in extreme cases.
Additionally, there is no way to conclude if these inspections were farms, since the data is comprehensive of all inspection fees paid. With each permit scaled to the size of the electrical service and how many branch circuits will be added, the majority of permits are around $150 to $200.
Another allegation concerns the timeliness of inspections and delays caused by the lack of inspectors. However, records from the electrical program demonstrate these claims are unfounded.
The electrical program employs protective measures to ensure the inspection happens within three days. The Department of Public Safety can verify that very few inspections went beyond the three-day limit, and these delays were more a function of scheduling with contractors than the inspector not being timely.
Finally, the Branstad administration is claiming the suspension of the farm inspections is a fiscally responsible way to use state funds. However, the Electrical Licensure Board receives no general fund money and is funded solely through the price of permits and electrical licensure fees, so the state has no financial responsibility to protect in this decision.
On the contrary, the state does have the responsibility to protect the safety and livelihood of the taxpayer through the inspection program.
The real losers of this action are the farmers and their families who will be injured due to faulty installations or the firefighters battling fires caused by a preventable mistake.
The ongoing efforts to reduce death, injury and property damage were decreasing through this program and the elimination of these inspections will have real ramifications.
I strongly urge Governor Branstad to rescind his decision and reinstate the on-farm electrical inspection administrative rule as Iowa law requires.
In the meantime, I encourage those who perform their own electrical work to be cautious of this change and to ensure the safety of their loved ones by voluntarily having their work inspected.
© AFL-CIO. All rights reserved.
Photographs and illustrations, as well as text, cannot be used without permission from the AFL-CIO.