Electrical Licensing for Dutchess County
Dutchess County Legislature
members of the Real Majority Project
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"Licensing Electricians Adds Layer of Protection"
[February 16th Poughkeepsie Journal Valley Views]
by Bob Clearwater and William McCabe
We have all read newspaper stories about tragic fires caused by
faulty electric wiring. A few of us have even experienced such
In an effort to improve safety and to protect homeowners and tenants,
we are proposing a Dutchess County law that will require a license
for electricians doing business in our county. Several surrounding
counties and adjoining states have required electrical licensing for
some time. As proof of training and a degree of expertise, many
professions require certification through licensing -- including, but
not limited to teachers, lawyers, doctors, Realtors, hair stylists
and even your neighborhood mechanic. Licensed electricians would
assure consumers of proper installation as a result of their
demonstrated ability and knowledge of codes.
Currently, the cities of Poughkeepsie and Beacon have their own
licensing laws. Therefore, in the balance of Dutchess County anyone
without training or experience could advertise and perform work as an
electrical contractor. It seems essential to us that consumers should
have assurance of basic competency when hiring someone to do electric work in their homes or businesses.
The proposed law provides consumers with an efficient process to
handle complaints about inadequate or substandard work. The law would also protect consumers with a provision requiring licensed
electricians to have liability insurance. No individual homeowner
would be prevented from doing electrical work on his or her own
property, provided, of course, that codes are followed. This law is
not intended to restrict individual choices, but it would protect us
when we choose to hire an electrical contractor. In all cases, a
third-party inspection agency is not only recommended, but in most
cases is required.
Other counties do it
Similar to Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties, a Dutchess
County License Board would be established to test applicants, provide
training and evaluate complaints. There is absolutely no cost to the
county or to taxpayers because all expenses of the license board are
to be paid by an annual license fee. The operation of this program
will be entirely self-supporting.
This law would require a minimum of seven years of experience with
electricity or an appropriate degree, as well as mastery proven on an
exam, to qualify for a countywide license. Those contractors with
more than 10 years of proven experience would be covered by a
grandfather clause to qualify for a license.
While our proposed law will not guarantee that electrical accidents
will not occur, we feel it goes a long way to protect consumers, help
town and cities enforce code and assure a professional status for
electrical contractors. The proposal has the enthusiastic support of
the Dutchess County Electrical Contractors Association, the Hudson
Valley Local of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
and the National Electrical Contractors Association, as well as many
town supervisors, building inspectors and fire chiefs in Dutchess
The proposed law is a step forward for all of us. If you also support
it, call your county legislator at 845-486-2100 or email to
[email protected] If you have any questions or
want more information, a public hearing is being held on the propsed
license law at 7 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Cornell Cooperative Extension
Farm and Home Center on Route 44 in Millbrook.
February 17th Taconic Papers editorial: "Plugging In"
Fires caused by faulty wiring can't always be prevented, but passing a proposed new law that requires licenses for electricians who do business in our county would go a long way toward protecting homeowners and tenants from work that could be shocking, both figuratively and literally.
Dutchess County Legislators Bob Clearwater (R-Hyde Park) and Bill McCabe (D-LaGrange, Wappinger, Union Vale) have proposed the law to give consumers in Dutchess some of the same assurances about electrical work residents in Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester have now.
Under the proposal electricians would be required to have a minimum of seven years' experience or an applicable degree, along with a passing grade on an exam to be issued a license.
A Dutchess County License Board would provide training, look into complaints and test applicants. The fact that the electricians would fund the entire initiative through their annual license fees makes the new legislation all the more attractive.
As Clearwater and McCabe point out, mechanics and hairstylists are required to be licensed. If the prospect of a bad "do" is enough to prompt across-the-board certification, a county endorsement for someone tinkering with thousands of volts in people's homes is certainly a good idea.
We urge the Legislature to pass the law, and put the real power where it belongs, with the consumer.
"Move Is On to License Electrical Contractors"
by Anthony Farmer [12/5/04 Poughkeepsie Journal]
A plan to license electrical contractors is being revived, more than
four years after it fizzled out before the Dutchess County
The proposed law has the support of a number of independent
electrical contractors in the county and a group of unionized
Proponents say the law will protect consumers from poor workmanship, ensuring that electrical contractors performing work in the county are qualified.
''A lot of people don't realize the shoddiness of the work out there,'' said Rich Parente, president of the Dutchess County Electrical Contractors Association. ''It's amazing more people aren't harmed by it.''
The county Legislature plans to vote in January on a measure
requesting the state approve legislation allowing the county to
establish a board to license master electricians. If the state grants
permission, the county would then have to approve the licensing law.
In Dutchess, only the cities of Poughkeepsie and Beacon require
electrical contractors to be licensed.
Putnam, Westchester, Greene and Rockland counties all have countywide licensing laws.
Besides the county electrical contractors association, a
representative of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
Local 363 spoke in favor of the plan.
A seven-member electrical licensing board would be appointed to
oversee implementation and enforcement of the law.
Under the law proposed for Dutchess:
- All electricians in the county would be required to either be
licensed as master electricians, or work for one.
- Applicants would have at least seven years experience in the field
and pass a written examination, to qualify for a license.
- The license would cost $500 a year.
- Contractors with licenses issued by the cities of Beacon or
Poughkeepsie, or those who can prove they've been in business and
competently doing work for the past 11 years, would not have to take
the exam to acquire a county license.
Tim Sickles, the Town of Poughkeepsie building inspector, noted his
town requires plumbers to be licensed, but not electricians. He said
the county law would have a positive effect.
''The licensing, especially the minimum requirements of this law,
will improve the quality of work that will be done,'' Sickles said.
Legislator Robert Clearwater, R-Hyde Park, said there's no need to
institute licensing for other tradesmen in the county. If a plumber
isn't qualified, the worst that can happen is your basement gets
flooded, he said.
''If an electrician is not qualified ... what can they do?,'' said
Clearwater, a sponsor of the measure and a union electrician. ''I
don't know, burn down your house?''
From the Dutchess County Electrical Contractors Association (DCECA.com) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 363 (ElectricNewYork.org/ibew4.html):
If You Think Electricians Should be Licensed, the County Legislature Needs a Message From You
The County Legislature is considering a law that requires electrical
contractors doing business in the county to be licensed by the
county. Right now, any untrained or otherwise unqualified person can
claim to be an electrician, do electrical work, and charge as much as
a genuinely qualified professional electrician would charge.
Is this OK? We don't think so. And we're the electricians
who - if the legislature passes a license law - would have to pay
$500 a year for a license, be responsible to a License Board, and be
required to carry expensive liability insurance. We're for a license
law because we believe the people of Dutchess County need and deserve the protection a license law will provide. Our neighbor counties, and states, have had license laws for years.
So, to make a long argument short, here are the two main
things the people protected by a license law get that you don't get
in Dutchess County.
1. A license is a legal document that says an electrician is
worthy of your trust. An electrician who has earned a license has
proven knowledge, proven competence, a good business record, and has to carry insurance to protect customers if property is accidentally
damaged or someone is injured on a job.
2. You have leverage. If you have a dispute with a licensed
electrician, you can make a complaint to the County Licensing Board.
The Board will investigate and take action. The Board has the power,
and the responsibility, to decide on your complaint. The Board can
rule on restitution (get you a refund), and can put cheaters out of
business and even put them in jail.
But legislators are receiving letters and e-mail messages
that object to a county license law, even though a license law is
consumer protection that really protects. If you want a license
law's protection, tell the County Legislature. Tell the legislators
to vote for protection, not against it, when the license law comes up
for a vote in March. Write a letter. Send e-mail.
Reasons for not wanting licensing:
1. "I'm against regulation"
2. "It will create more bureaucracy"
3. "It isn't necessary. Don't town codes and inspections protect enough?"
4. "Don't trust legislature to do it right"
5. "It will make life more complicated for handymen and small contractors"
6. "It will make electrical work cost more"
7. "It will take income away from handymen and small contractors"
8. "It will make maintenance of property more expensive"
1. Regulation. Is the comment really - "It infringes on my freedom?"
OK, who are you? If you're a builder, regulation does indeed reduce
your control over your work and your product, if you don't care about
safety codes. A licensed electrical contractor is not likely to take
shortcuts that violate codes -- or even come close -- to save money
for anyone. So if you want to cheat, you'll either have to find a
licensed electrician who'll cheat for you or do your own cheating.
Both strategies are illegal if there's a license law.
If you're a person hiring an electrical contractor, regulation by
licensing means protection and leverage you don't have now in
Dutchess County. We hate to be told the government is doing
something for our own good, but in this case it's true and there's no
If you're an electrical contractor, you are required to follow rules.
You are regulated. The rules you have to follow, however, protect
you as well as protect your customers. Your competence is legally
established. You are rewarded in reputation and trust.
It's not as if regulating electrical contractors is an entirely new
ides. Seventy percent of the country (U.S.A.) does it in one way or
another. We have a lot of regulation. Governments, on behalf of the
people, regulate many things that are dangerous, like driving a car
or transporting gasoline. Usually, regulation is triggered when
population of an area grows to the point where not regulating
something dangerous can affect a lot of people. With electricity,
which can kill and will start fires if mishandled, and about 300,000
people now in our county, we're already more than a little remiss in
only just now considering regulation of electrical contractors.
This word is generally accepted as meaning something bad. That is,
it is generally tied to the idea of a bureau, which is a bunch of
government-paid people who don't do much and who keep us from doing things ourselves.
Do we want to create such a thing? Of course not. Has this happened
where there are license laws? Not in places we're using as models to
guide us. Our proposed license law creates a board made up of a mix
of experienced people with appropriate backgrounds. The board is not
paid. Its expenses are paid from license fees. It is required by
law to conduct a certain amount of business every month. It operates
within strict guidelines as a legally-empowered adjunct of the County
Government. It has a service role first, and an enforcement role
second. This approach is working fine right now in Westchester and
Putnam Counties, and, in fact, everywhere license laws have been
carefully written and updated as needed. The people are served.
Electrical contractors are regulated.
3. It isn't necessary
Why is a licensing necessary when we already have town codes and
electrical inspections? Two reasons. People cheat and people make
mistakes. When this happens, who pays?
A license law and a board to enforce the license law, give a person
leverage that town building departments and electrical inspectors
The board can put electrical contractors out of business for
cheating, by taking away the contractor's license. The board can
also fine cheaters, and can help the cheated customer get a judgment
against the cheater.
The board can also use a contractor's license as leverage for getting
a customer reimbursed for damages or work that has to be re-done
("Pay up or lose your license"). Towns, inspectors and customers
don't have this leverage by themselves, but with a license law and
license board, there's always leverage.
4. "Don't trust the legislature"
Good point. Improvements in consumer protection seem to be more
talked about than actually accomplished.
However, in the case of a license law, the legislature's job is
mainly to create a good board once a license law is passed. That's
not a hard job, but if it gets too politicized, there will be delays.
There has to be a mutual goal, for all legislators, to create a board
of trustworthy people who will serve the county well.
5. "Make life more complicated for handymen and small contractors"
Not necessarily. A handyman can replace switches, outlets and light
fixtures without claiming to be a licensed electrician. However, if
the work to be done requires a permit, the handyman or contractor,
and the customer, have to decide whether or not the electrical work
should be done by a licensed electrical contractor who is
credentialed and insured. The electrical contractor's license
protects the handyman or contractor as well as the customer.
6. "Take income away from handymen and contractors"
There's some work handymen and home-improvement con tractors can do
safely - and are covered by insurance protecting customers - and
there's some work where the customer is better served and better
protected if a licensed electrical contractor does the work. If a
remodeler or handyman has been doing work that is more appropriate - for reasons of safety and better customer protection - for a licensed
electrical contractor, then that remodeler or handyman will lose some
income. However, there's nothing to prevent subcontracting electrical work to a licensed electrical contractor. Or, if a remodeler, handyman, or an employee can qualify for a master electrician's license, there's nothing to prevent that person from getting a license.
7. "It will make electrical work cost more"
There are established market prices for the cost of electrical work
and contractors compete with each other in bidding for work.
Licensing will not change this.
Licensed electrical contractors must all follow the same basic rules,
use the same materials and charge generally similar hourly rates.
Actually, a licensed contractor's experience and skills should result
in high productivity; that is, make it possible to get work done in
minimum time, which accordingly minimizes labor cost.
8. "It will make maintenance of property more expensive"
Depending on how much electrical work maintenance people have been doing for a landlord, having electrical work done by a licensed
electrical contractor could turn out to cost more.
You get what you pay for. And not just the landlord is concerned
here. Tenants, and sometimes, the tenant's customers and the
property's neighbors are concerned, too. All parties, including the
landlord, are protected when a licensed electrical contractor does
The decision on how much risk may be involved in having maintenance
people do electrical work is up to the landlord. What does the
landlord's insurance cover? Does the work require a permit? Will
the work be inspected? How does risk balance against cost?
Salvatore J. DiFede, Executive Manager of the Hudson Valley Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association recently wrote this:
I would like to offer my support of a law in Dutchess County that would license electrical contractors. With todays technology making electrical installations more complex coupled with the unprecedented growth we are experiencing, it is imperative to protect the consumer from unscrupulous and/or ill trained contractors. There is no downside to licensing, it will not limit competition or drive up the cost of doing business.
Michael Bainlardi and John Burke of Fishkill, Michael DelMedico of Lagrangeville, Mark Vose of Pleasant Valley, Ronald Hicks and Carol Pearson of Poughkeepsie, and Henry Rathjen and John Varricchio of Rhinebeck recently signed on to this letter that neatly sums it all up to our County Legislature:
There is a well-established need to regulate trade to support
consumer rights. Most of the country regulates construction
Historically, regulation is enacted when people working in a
trade have the potential to harm others. The more people who
might be harmed, the more need for regulation. The population of
Dutchess County is approaching 300,000. Electricity is
dangerous. It starts about 40,000 fires each year and kills some
350 people. Bad work or mistakes involving electricity is a
hazard, not just for the person doing the work, but for the
public at large. A law requiring electricians to earn a license
to be in business as electrical contractors by proving their
competence and insisting that they are insured will give the
people of Dutchess County assurances that they will get safety,
good work, good value and the protection of liability insurance
when they hire an electrical contractor
Our towns and villages will benefit from the establishment of an
informational pool where questions, conflicts, and help in
enforcement of regulations can be centralized.
Further, consumers will have the possibility to make things
right when electrical projects go wrong. Right now, without a
license law, consumers can't be sure of which electricians they
can trust or of what they can do if things go wrong.
Here below is part of the proposed law-- the full text of the law can be found on our County Legislature's website (go to DutchessNY.gov, then click on "County Government", then "County Legislature"):
LICENSE REQUIRED; EXCEPTIONS.
1. No person shall perform, engage in, or conduct business as a
Master Electrician within the County of Dutchess unless licensed
pursuant to this local law or unless under contract to or employed by
and supervised by and working under the direction of a Master
Electrician licensed pursuant to this local law. Only licensed
Master Electricians may conduct business as electrical contractors.
Any electrician in business as an electrical contractor in Dutchess
County prior to adoption of this local law, who meets the
requirements stated in this law for licensing as a Master
Electrician, will be eligible for a Dutchess County Master
Electrician's License according to SECTION 9, GRANDFATHER CLAUSE, in order to continue in business without interruption.
2. No person shall hold himself or herself out to the public as
a Master Electrician or offer to contract to perform the work of a
Master Electrician within the County of Dutchess unless licensed
pursuant to this local law or unless under contract to or employed by
and supervised by and working under the direction of a Master
Electrician licensed pursuant to this local law.
3. No person, business, or company shall employ an unlicensed
electrician unless the unlicensed electrician is working under the supervision and direction of a Master Electrician licensed pursuant to this local law.
4. The provisions of this local law shall not apply to persons:
a. Who are engaged solely in the selling or in the attachment
of ordinary electrical appliances including heating, ventilating, and air conditioning equipment to existing circuits (where no new wiring or wiring devices are required).
b. Who are engaged solely in the general maintenance of
buildings and grounds, including attachment or replacement of ordinary electrical appliances and heating, air conditioning,
and ventilating equipment to existing circuits.
c. Who work exclusively in the maintenance or repair of elevators.
d. Who work exclusively in the manufacture or assembly of electrical
e. Who work exclusively with public service companies or municipal plants authorized to generate or sell electricity, in connection with the erection construction, maintenance, or repair of lines and facilities for the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity from the source of supply to the service connection on the premises where used.
f. Who work exclusively with public service companies or
municipal plants authorized to generate or sell electricity, in
connection with installing, maintaining, and repairing on the
consumer's premises of service connections, meters, and other
apparatus and appliances remaining on the property of such companies or plants after installation.
g. Who are homeowners, doing electrical work in single-family
residences they own and occupy, in accordance with permit and
inspection requirements of local city, town and village building
ELECTRICAL LICENSING BOARD; MEMBERSHIP,
SECRETARY, ENFORCEMENT OFICER; COMPENSATION
1. There shall be a Dutchess County Electrical Licensing Board.
This Board shall consist of seven (7) members: one (1) electrical
contractor who is a member of Dutchess County Electrical Contractors
Association, one (1) electrical contractor who employs union
electricians, one (1) representative of either Central Hudson Gas &
Electric Corporation or New York State Electric & Gas Corporation,
one (1) journeyman electrician representing journeymen electricians,
one (1) electrical inspector member of (NY State Building Officials
Association), one (1) professional electrical or architectural
engineer licensed by the State of New York and one (1) resident of
Dutchess County who is active in the electrical industry, excluding
anyone qualified for any of the other board positions, acting for the
residents of Dutchess County.
2. Pursuant to the Dutchess County Charter, the County Executive
shall appoint the members of the Board subject to confirmation by the
County Legislature. Of the members first appointed, one shall be
appointed for a term of one (1) year; two for a term of two (2)
years; two for a term of three (3) years; and two for a term of five
(5) years. Members may continue to serve after the expiration of
their respective terms of office until their successors have been
appointed and have qualified. The successors of all members of the
Board thereafter shall be appointed for terms of five (5) years.
However, members may continue to serve after the expiration of their
respective terms of office until their successors have been appointed
and have qualified.
3. In the event that a vacancy occurs on the Board, the County
Executive shall appoint an individual subject to confirmation by the County Legislature to serve the unexpired portion of the term of the member whose office has become vacant.
4. A member of the board may be removed by a majority vote of
the board for misfeasance or malfeasance in office, incompetence,
incapacity, neglect of duty, or other good and sufficient cause,
after providing the member with notice of the charges and an
opportunity to be heard in his or her defense in person and/or by
5. The Electrical Licensing Board shall annually elect its
chairman and vice-chairman from its membership. The members of the Board will not be compensated for their services on the Board; however, the members of the Board may be reimbursed for any reasonable and necessary expenses incurred in the
performance of their duties, in accordance with Dutchess County policy.
6. A majority of the board shall be a quorum for the transaction
7. The Electrical Licensing Board shall have an administrative
secretary and an enforcement officer to assist the Board with its
duties and functions as contained in the local law and who shall be
paid for their services as provided by law. The secretary will serve
as an alternate member of the Board to make up a quorum when a
majority of the Board is not in attendance and urgent business must
8. Representatives from any entity authorized to inspect electrical work within Dutchess County shall advise the Board, as deemed appropriate by the Board.
POWERS AND DUTIES OF THE BOARD.
The Board shall have the following powers and duties:
1. To hold at least one (1) meeting each month. Other meetings
may be held at the request of the Chairman of the Board or a majority of the Board, as may be necessary for the efficient discharge of the business of the Board.
2. To examine into the qualification and fitness of
applicants for licenses under this local law.
3. To approve the issuance of licenses to applicants who pose
the requisite qualifications in accordance with this local law.
4. To issue licenses as approved by the Board and signed by the
5. To number all licenses in the order in which they are issued.
6. To accept formal complaints, in writing, from towns, cities
and villages and private individuals, according to a uniform system
of dating and reporting such complaints (The Board, if it chooses,
can develop a complaint form or questionnaire).
7. To suspend or revoke licenses for cause as provided in this local law.
8. To subpoena witnesses and records relating to compliance with
this (article/local law).
9. To impose and collect fines for violations of this local law.
10. To keep records of all its meetings and proceedings and of
all licenses issued, suspended, or revoked by it, and to make such records available for public inspection.
11. To establish rules and regulations as may be necessary to
effect and implement the provisions of this local law.
12. To prepare a manual of all its rules and regulations for the
use and benefit of local Building Departments and to furnish copies
thereof to building departments in all Dutchess County towns, cities,
and villages. Copies will be provided to persons desiring the same
upon payment of a fee of (twenty--five cents per page).
13. To file a copy of all the rules and regulations of the Board
and any changes thereto with the County Clerk.
14. To establish an official means of communication, concerning
items (10), (11), and (12) above for providing information to and exchanging information with the building departments of all Dutchess County towns, cities, and villages.
15. To judge and decide on qualifications of established Dutchess
County electrical contractors to be granted Master Electrician's licenses
under SECTION 9, GRANDFATHER CLAUSE, of this local law.
16. To employ an enforcement officer who will act under the
direction of the Board, with the Board's authority, to implement provisions of SECTION 11: VIOLATIONS AND PENALTIES, of this local law.