Gold Dome, Peter Blake

If you're drowning in regulations, please only call a licensed plumber!

Leave that new low-flow toilet in the box and get out of the house, handyman. They don’t want you doing a licensed plumber’s work anymore.

While the headlines focus on gun bills and pot regulations, the legislature is quietly going about a major annual chore: Helping various trades and professions keep their prices up by restricting entry.

Every year the legislature reviews the sunset laws for a dozen or so boards among the more than 50 in the Department of Regulatory Agencies. It also entertains the pleas of unregulated trades eager to get regulated.

It’s not what the late Rep. Jerry Kopel, D-Denver, had in mind when he set up the sunset review process back in 1976. It is supposed to require every board in the Department of Regulatory Agencies justify its existence every few years by showing how consumers would be hurt if it went out of business.

The idea was to reduce regulation, since Kopel observed that it was always businesses, and not consumers, that sought regulation. icon_op_ed

In practice, reauthorization of licensing boards has become routine and virtually automatic. Indeed, the trades often use the bills to try to make the rules even tighter.

For instance, the examining board of plumbers is among those up for renewal this year. An amendment to the pending bill would prohibit hired handymen from doing what they’re still allowed to do, such as replacing toilets, sinks, showers, tubs, faucets and water conditioners.

Senate Bill 162 is still in committee, and the amendment’s fate has yet to be determined. But it’s a union proposal, and the majority Democrats on the Senate Business Committee sounded sympathetic during discussion Monday. Even if the amendment fails in committee, it could be added on the floor.

Another union-inspired amendment would require all municipalities to use licensed plumbers as building inspectors. Meghan Storrie of the Colorado Municipal League protested that this would be “costly and unnecessary” for smaller towns. What’s more, she said, it would violate a recent executive order by Gov. John Hickenlooper prohibiting the legislature from imposing unfunded mandates on local governments.

The good news, such as it is: The homeowner would still be allowed to do his own plumbing, if he thinks he can.

Every year there are also trades seeking new regulation. For instance, the naturopaths are trying again for licensing in House Bill 1111. If they can’t get licensing, they might settle for registration, which is not quite as restrictive but still provides supervision by DORA.

As introduced, the bill would require naturopaths to have attended certain schools and passed a competency-based licensing exam. The bill would prohibit them from doing surgery, giving shots or other routines reserved to physicians.

HB 1111 passed the House Health Committee 8-3. with all six Democrats and two of the five Republicans voting for licensing. It still must go to the Finance and Appropriations committees before reaching the floor.

It will not be smooth sailing, because there are several kinds of naturopaths, and they don’t like each other.

Leading the opposition to regulation is Jan Kerschner, president of the Colorado Sunshine Health Freedom Foundation.

Naturopathy “has been in the public domain for years and years,” she said. “It is just talking to people and educating them about diet and things they can do to help themselves… It’s nothing intensive. You don’t poke skin, you don’t do any harm at all.”

Now naturopathic “physicians” have shown up “and they want to license something that is just there for everybody,” Kerschner complained. Licensing and registration wouldn’t be fair because traditional naturopaths could no longer use the term. The traditionals counsel on diet and often sell vitamins and herbal remedies.

The drive to licensure is usually slowed only because others in the trade raise opposition. Consumers are neutral — they have no lobbyists at the statehouse and whatever issue is at stake is a very small part of their lives. But they end up paying more for services, which is what the licensees want them to do.

Some trades who can’t get full licensing right away are willing to settle for registration with a state board, a foot in the door. But soon they come back with bills seeking full licensure, which makes it easier to punish freelancers.

Take, for example, the audiologists. They obtained registration in 1996. They tried to get more regulation last year, but failed. Now they are trying again, with Senate Bill 39. It passed the Senate 26-9 last week.

The massage therapists are also trying to move from registration to licensing under Senate Bill 151. It passed the Senate Health Committee Feb. 13 and will be in Appropriations Friday. If it becomes law it will be easier for DORA to punish those who, well, rub the licensing board the wrong way.

Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes Thursdays for Contact him at You may re-publish his work at no charge and without further permission; please give full credit to Peter Blake and

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