Interior Designers Need New Plan to Move Bills to Regulate Industry

Industry DesignIt’s apparently back to the drawing board for supporters of two bills that would regulate interior designers in South Carolina.

A Senate Labor, Commerce and Industry subcommittee on Wednesday took no action on one of the bills (S. 339), sponsored by Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter. A companion House bill (H.3417), sponsored by Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Dorchester, has not received a hearing since being referred to the same House committee on Jan. 24.

At issue with S. 339 is the proposed creation of a “South Carolina Registered Interior Designers Board.”  Some interior designers aligned with the Washington, D.C.-based American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) want to be registered with the state so they can stamp and seal building plans, as architects and engineers currently do, for commercial projects, as well as bid on public projects.

Interior designers would have to biennially renew their registration, documenting their continuing education requirements and paying a fee set by the new regulatory board, under the bill.

While supporters of S. 339 outnumbered opponents during Wednesday’s well-attended hearing, Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson and the subcommittee chairman, emphasized that senators had received feedback on both sides of the issue.

“Is it the role of government to regulate you?” Bryant asked. “That’s the decision this subcommittee has to make.”

Amid the debate about whether to regulate interior designers, some critics contend that South Carolina already over-regulates certain occupations, as The Nerve reported here.  Gov. Nikki Haley has created a task force to study how state agencies can roll back regulations on businesses; a preliminary report is expected to be released soon.

“I know a lot of my colleagues in the Senate right now are fundamentally opposed to do anything that would increase or broaden the regulations in the state or put up more red tape,” McElveen, who is not on the subcommittee, said during Wednesday’s hearing.

But McElveen, an attorney, added, “The intent of this bill is more to allow interior designers, people who have the training, to do more with their degrees and to live up to their training.”

Under S. 339, interior designers would have the Palmetto State join 26 states that regulate interior designers. Georgia, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee each have regulations on interior designers at some level, according to the website of the International Interior Design Association.

Occupations that directly impact the health or safety of the public typically are regulated by the Palmetto State. Contacted by The Nerve after Wednesday’s hearing, Don Davis, the ASID’s vice president of government affairs, declined to answer repeated questions about whether a mistake made by an interior designer affected public health or safety.

Nicole Norris of Sumter, who has been an interior designer for 17 years, said interior designers have tremendous say on health and safety issues.  She said while interior designers have college degrees and certifications, many in the industry want to be registered with the state.

“We are not for expanding government,” Norris told the subcommittee. “I understand many of you feel that way as well, and I understand that. We are simply asking for the right to practice what we do in our state.”

“It (interior design) is recognized. It is needed, and the clients are looking for it,” said Danny Shelly, a registered architect of 40 years in Sumter and who also has interior design certifications.

But there was plenty of opposition to McElveen’s bill as well.

“There is absolutely no need for the state to add to the regulatory burdens on small businesses by establishing new occupational licensing laws on a profession that has worked for decades without public concern or harm, and where the public is already protected by virtue of the state’s building and permitting codes, rules and regulations,” Edward Nagorsky, the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s general counsel and director of legislative affairs, wrote to the subcommittee.

The organization has 830 members in South Carolina. Lynn Murray of the Columbia-based McNair law firm, representing this group, identified other concerns for S. 339 in her testimony Wednesday.

“We believe the bill does not increase consumer protection, and that it’s economically protectionist and anti-competitive and discriminatory,” she said.

Murray also said the bill violates Haley’s order to have fewer regulations for businesses in the state.

“We believe this is part of decade-long effort on behalf of the ASID and their coalitions to license the profession and to benefits its members by fencing out the competition with occupational licensing,” she told the subcommittee.

A 2009 report titled “Design to Exclude” by the Institute for Justice, an Arlington, Va.-based, libertarian public-interest law firm, concluded that in states where interior designers are regulated, consumers pay higher prices for design services, and fewer entrepreneurs are able to enter the market.

Davis, of the ASID, declined comment on the study when contacted by The Nerve.

Olson can be reached at (803) 254-4411 or curt@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_curt and @olson_curt. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and on Twitter @thenervesc.