On Jan. 1, 2014, architects will join the ranks of Texas professions which now requires fingerprinting.
Thanks to HB 1717, the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners will now “require that an applicant for a certificate of registration submit a complete and legible set of fingerprints, on a form prescribed by the board, to the board or to the Department of Public Safety for the purpose of obtaining criminal history record information from the Department of Public Safety and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
In addition to new applicants, licensed architects will be subject to the requirements upon renewing existing registrations. The penalty of non-compliance is a fine of up to $5,000 per day.
“Sometime back, the legislature became convinced that if there was an individual licensed by the state who had access to someone’s kids, to their house, to their money, or to drugs or explosives, then steps needed to be taken to do a more thorough background check,” David Lancaster, senior advocate of Texas Society of Architects, told AN. “When we heard about it being added to our Sunset Bill this time our initial reaction was, ‘Architects? Are you kidding me?’”
The law will make Texas the only state in the Union to require the fingerprinting of all registered architects. It is one of only two states that conducts criminal background checks of members of the profession, the other being Massachusetts. Many states, however, require such investigations in special cases, such as for architects who wish to work on school projects, and those who seek work with the General Services Administration or Department of Defense must also submit to such scrutiny.
Fingerprinting is now required for all Texas licensed professions. Architects Newspaper says this task has been given to the country’s primary fingerprinting contractor, Morpho Trust USA, a branch of Safran, a global French company in the aerospace and security industry.
Architects will reportedly pay a one-time fee of $41.45, $9.95 of which will go to Morpho with the balance designated for Department of Public Safety and the FBI, agencies which will both retain the records and conduct the background checks.
Terming the requirement a “Sunset Advisory Commission ‘boiler-plate’ recommendation for every licensing agency going through its routine periodic Sunset review,” Lancaster further explained in an open letter to TSA members:
Please understand — and believe — that your TxA advocates did everything possible to suggest that architects are the professional that least needs to be fingerprinted — if they need to be fingerprinted at all. To maintain credibility, however, lobbyists must pick their battles. Discretion is, indeed, the better part of valor. When it became obvious that continuing to oppose this proposal — one being applied across-the-board to physicians and other health professionals, attorneys, engineers, etc.— would not only be futile, it would create animosity with legislators, we changed our focus to see what might be done to lessen the impact.
For some professions, fingerprinting makes sense. In the 1990s and early 2000s, states began requiring public school teachers to submit to fingerprinting. Despite teacher resistance, this is now a common practice across the country, largely because the argument for it—schools should do everything they can to keep sex offenders out of the classroom—has been so persuasive. Fingerprinting people who work in the defense industry also makes sense.
But fingerprinting architects and other professionals essentially means every person seeking a licensed job in Texas has to join a database of potential criminal suspects. It could also allow the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners to discriminate against architects with criminal records.
So what happens if an architect in good professional standing is revealed to have a minor crime on his record due to being fingerprinted? Could he lose his license, despite the quality of his work? The TBAE absolutely reserves that right. “There are criteria that TBAE Enforcement staff consider in these reviews, and mitigating circumstances include how long ago the conviction was, whether it was related to the practice of the profession, and more.”
In 2012, the Institute for Justice released License to Work: A National Study of Burdens from Occupational Licensing, the first national study to measure how burdensome occupational licensing laws are for lower-income workers and aspiring entrepreneurs.
IJ described its effort:
The report documents the license requirements for 102 low- and moderate-income occupations—such as barber, massage therapist and preschool teacher—across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It finds that occupational licensing is not only widespread, but also overly burdensome and frequently irrational.
On average, these licenses force aspiring workers to spend nine months in education or training, pass one exam and pay more than $200 in fees. One third of the licenses take more than a year to earn. At least one exam is required for 79 of the occupations.
Barriers like these make it harder for people to find jobs and build new businesses that create jobs, particularly minorities, those of lesser means and those with less education.
License to Work recommends reducing or removing needless licensing barriers. The report’s rankings of states and occupations by severity of licensure burdens make it easy to compare laws and identify those most in need of reform.
With today’s struggling economy, are more regulatory obstacles truly in the Texans’ best interests?