Politics & Government

Builders get revote on bill banning local sprinkler laws

TOPEKA — A day after losing on a tie vote, builders and their supporters in the state House of Representatives won a revote on a bill that would prohibit local governments from mandating fire sprinklers in homes and small apartment buildings.

Firefighters, cities and counties appeared to have fought House Bill 2515 to a standstill Wednesday when it went down to defeat in a 59-59 tie.

But today, Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, moved to reconsider the bill.

On the revote, it passed 65-55.

The bill would prohibit cities and counties from passing building codes that require fire sprinklers in residential buildings of four units or less.

Schwab's call for reconsideration puts him at odds with the firefighters from his hometown of Olathe, who strongly opposed the bill.

The decision also was at odds with his feeling about protecting local control, but lawmakers had to protect the state economy, he said.

"You don't want a city passing civil code that can jeopardize the economy of the entire state," he said. "That is when the state has to come in and put in certain ceiling to protect the good of the entire state."

Before Wednesday's vote, Olathe firefighters and a representative of the state Firefighters Association stood outside the House chamber handing legislators orange fliers urging them to reject HB 2515. Olathe and Parsons were mentioned in the debate as two cities that have already passed requirements for fire sprinklers in triplexes and quadplexes.

Ron Ewing of the Firefighters Association said the trend is to require sprinklers in new construction because of increased use of lightweight and composite materials.

Older wood-built homes could burn for about 20 minutes before they began to collapse. With new homes, that "burn time" shortens to five minutes because of the different materials used, he said.

Proponents of the bill included the state associations for Realtors, builders and mobile-home manufacturers. They argued that requiring sprinklers would add thousands of dollars to the cost of new homes and slow their industries' recovery from the recession.

In addition to the firefighters, opponents included associations of cities and counties that argued that sprinklers save lives and that a state law restricting their building codes would infringe on local home-rule powers.