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Clean sweep or consumer rip-off?

Steve BucksteinWhile waiting to testify on another bill before the House Consumer Protection Committee, I listened to testimony in favor of a bill which would require anyone who cleans or inspects chimneys in Oregon to be licensed as a general contractor (SB 605).

A representative of the State Fire Marshall supported the bill and told the committee that over the last eight years there were 4,689 reported chimney fires in the state, nearly 600 a year.

I then asked to testify in order to clarify whether this bill would really protect consumers, or the chimney sweeps. Here’s a summary of my comments:

I reminded the legislators that they sit on the Consumer Protection Committee, not the Industry Protection Committee. Anything that makes it more difficult for individuals to enter a profession, or that reduces competition in an industry, tends to raise consumer prices and raise the income of those in that profession.

I noted that the State Fire Marshall has no data on how many of the chimneys that catch fire every year had recently been cleaned or inspected. If this bill does raise prices, then fewer people might be expected to have their chimneys properly maintained, thus leading to more – not fewer – chimney fires.

Committee chair Holvey then thanked me for my “interesting point of view” and said that “a little bit of regulation is important because we certainly wouldn’t want chimney sweeps cleaning chimneys with gasoline or something like that.”

Now this was a statement the chairman and I could agree on! Too bad government doesn’t have to power to make people avoid such dumb choices. And too bad government does have the power to saddle consumers with excessive costs that may harm not just their pocketbooks, but their very lives.

There were no questions from the committee members in response to my testimony, and the bill was held over pending a minor clarifying amendment.

You can listen to the entire hearing. My testimony begins at 32:54.

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