DALLAS — Almost one month after Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order to extend the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners, some still remain concerned about the future of the industry in the Lone Star State.
The board itself has been around since 1947. Its sole purpose is to license plumbers in the state and to investigate possible violations of the plumbing licensing law along with unlicensed work.
Yet, during the 86th legislative session, the board faced a crossroads unlike ever before.
The Texas Sunset Commission, which is made up of lawmakers, earmarked it for review.
Periodically, lawmakers look to the Sunset Commission to assess the performance or lack of performance surrounding state agencies or entities.
But after review, the commission recommended that the board be abolished and its duties absorbed by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.
Under SB 621, TDLR would assume all former functions of the board on September 1, like the issuance and renewal of licenses, endorsements or certificates of registration.
There would still be a plumbing board, however. The bill wanted to create a nine-person advisory board that would provide advice and recommendations to TDLR about its new responsibilities.
The top issue that the Sunset Board had with the status quo was that the board wasn't churning out plumbers fast enough.
Not a good problem to have in Texas, where there is already a shortage of plumbers.
Delays in testing and the issuance of licenses were a problem. However, if TDLR absorbed the board it could use all of its licensing centers to smooth out delays.
Right now, there is only one testing and licensing center for the industry and it's in Austin.
However, plumbing unions were staunch opponents of the bill.
Many suggested that plumbers would no longer be able to oversee their own profession and that transferring duties might be too big of a task for the TDLR to handle.
The board also stated that it was underfunded and couldn't do its job without more financial help.
But before the session ended, SB 621 did not pass. Simultaneously, a fail-safe bill to extend the life of the board just in case SB 621 died never made it off the House floor.
For weeks, the plumbing industry was up in the air and consumers stood to lose the most.
If something wasn't done, essentially the board was set to fold on September 1 and anyone could basically be a plumber without a license.
Consumers would also not be able to cross-reference the board's online records to see a plumber's experience for that matter.
However, Gov. Abbott eased concerns mid-June. He issued an executive order to extend the life of the board until "disaster needs subside" statewide or until the next legislative session in 2021.
The order was applauded by the industry, but there are plumbers who are still concerned.
Rusty Speake of Speake's Plumbing in Garland is a third-generation plumber.
"My grandfather was a plumber, my dad, all my uncles," Speake said.
"It's all I know."
Speake told WFAA that he couldn't believe what happened during the legislative session or what didn't happen for that matter.
"It seemed like a dream," Speake said."It's bizarre even to this day it doesn't make sense."
Speake is more concerned about what happens next.
"I'm OK with temporary fixes, but I would love to know what the long-term solution here is," Speake said.
He's not alone.
Sonny Friedman of Atlas Plumbing in Dallas has been in the business since 1967.
He points out that plumbers are responsible for a lot, and that a long-term fix needs to be thought out, planned and not rushed.
Remember, plumbers don't just unclog pipes. They install and fix natural gas, air or steam lines, must know strict drinking water regulations, safe waste disposal procedures and even maintain medical gas lines in hospitals.
Meaning they make sure anesthesia and oxygen flow like it should.
"That's a specialty," Friedman said. "And it requires a recertification every year."
"It's not just something that someone can start doing and be a plumber, it's something that takes years of experience to get this down," Friedman said.
The question is, what will lawmakers do next? The can has already been kicked down the road, but when the state eventually gets there, it will have a big decision to make.