ICC Takes Steps to Shorten Code Hearings

Julie Ruth
February 14, 2009
COLUMN : Code Arena | Codes & Standards

There is a time for planting and encouraging growth. A time to plant seeds or young saplings, water and nurture them, so that the young plants increase in size and become strong. And there is a time for trimming the new growth back, to control the growth, and to protect the plant from becoming overwhelmed by the sheer size and weight of its own increase in volume.

I am speaking, of course, about the International Code Council, and not the economy.

Since the first complete set of International Codes were published nine years ago, the growth in the adoption and enforcement of these codes has been phenomenal. From a set of codes that weren’t even in existence 20 years ago, use of the International Codes will spread to all 50 states and some foreign countries in 2009. With the possible exception of the CABO One and Two Family Dwelling Code and NFPA’s National Electrical Code, no other model construction code has been so widely accepted within the U.S. And the scope of the ICC family of construction codes exceeds that of these other two documents by a wide margin.

But success of that nature can bring with it growing pains. For those of us who work with the codes on behalf of industry our focus tends to be on which jurisdictions are now adopting or enforcing which edition of the International Codes, and what local amendments that jurisdiction might be making. In some cases the local amendments can be as daunting as the original code text, or perhaps even more so.

But the other area where this growth has become extremely evident is in the code development process itself. As has been noted by more than one member of the industry, “the stakes are higher now.” Now that ICC is the only game in town it seems everyone wants to play.

As a result the number of code change proposals has grown significantly for each code change cycle since ICC’s inception. In a recent report to the ICC board of directors, the ICC task force on hearings noted that the number of code change proposals considered at the ICC code development hearings has nearly doubled from 1,172 in 2000, to 2,213 in 2008.

This increase in code change proposals has subsequently led to an increased length of code change hearings. Even with time limits placed upon individual’s testimony and two sets of hearings running at the same time, the 2008 code development hearings lasted 13 days. Although the increase in public comments heard during the final action hearings has grown even more, the total amount of time needed for that second and final round of hearings has not grown to the same extent. The 2008 final action hearings in 2008 lasted six days, however.

Even in the best of economic times, the length of these hearings can have a negative effect on participation. This concern has been one of the primary focuses of the ICC task force on hearings, which the ICC board formed in 2005. The goals of the task force are to reduce the length of, and increase participation in, the hearings, while retaining the quality of the International Codes.

The Length of Hearings
In 2006 and 2007, the task force made various recommendations that the ICC board approved. One recommendation included reversing the hearing order from cycle to cycle, so that those who had to wait around during the last cycle are would have their issues first during the next cycle. This change was implemented for the 2008 hearings, and will be continued during the 2009 code development hearings in Baltimore.

The ICC board also approved a second recommendation to split the hearings around the organization's annual business meeting in the fall. This move was designed to increase the likelihood that someone who going to attend part of the hearings would attend the annual business meeting. This change will be implemented for the ICC  at the code development hearings later this year.

Although it was hoped these changes would increase participation in the hearings, it was clear they would do little to reduce the length of the hearings, either in terms of the length of time spent in the hearing room each day, or in terms of the total number of days. A third recommendation–the use of electronic key pads to count the votes of active code officials during the 2007 and 2008 final action hearings–did reduce the length of those hearings to some extent, but it is difficult to determine how much. Further, use of electronic key pads during the code development hearings, in their present format, is not expected to be possible or helpful.

The task force considered a number of other options to shorten the length of the hearings. After considering them and receiving input during ICC members forums, two more significant recommendations were brought to the ICC board in 2008 and approved.

Editorial changes
The first was to limit modifications permitted for consideration by the code change committee during the code development hearings to those deemed editorial. ICC procedures state that “an editorial or format change is a text change that does not affect the scope or application of the code requirements.” This rule will be implemented for the first time during the 2009 hearings in Baltimore. The code change committee chair will rule on whether a proposed modification meets the definition of editorial, with no challenge from the floor permitted. 

“There were 436 modifications discussed in Palm Springs," notes a 2008 report from the hearings task force. "In order to estimate the time required, we assumed an average of six minutes to deal with each modification. This added 44 hours to the hearings, split by the two tracks is approximately 22 hours of time to consider modifications. This represents approximately an additional two plus days added to the hearings."

There is, however, a concern that the elimination of modifications will lead to an increase in public comments and more items on the final action hearing agenda. As explained by Mike Pfeiffer, deputy senior VP of technical services, “The net effect of this action is to shorten the CDH due to the reduced time spent deliberating on modifications but potentially lengthen the FAH. There is a trade-off for this action because the resulting FAH will in all likelihood be more efficient as the public comments are published well in advance of the hearings (not like modifications).”

The second significant recommendation approved in 2008 is to combine proposals under one committee. At the present time different committees hear proposals for each International Code. If a proposal would change part of the International Building Code and the International Fire Code, for example, that proposal would be split into two parts and heard by two committees–one for the IBC and one for the IFC. As a result, a significant amount of time is spent on redundant testimony.

The ICC board has voted to combine these proposal “parts” under one committee, with the exception of proposed changes to the International Residential Code. The reason for this exception is a  memorandum of understanding that currently exists between ICC and the National Association of Home Builders. That memorandum allows NAHB to name one third of the committee members on any committee that votes on changes to the IRC. The ICC board has indicated they will be revisiting this issue in negotiations with NAHB.

Since proposed changes to the IRC are not to be included in this change in procedure the "all parts heard by the same committee" may not have a large impact on our industry at present. But it could have significant ramifications for us down the line if agreement is reached with NAHB concerning proposals that affect the IRC and other International Codes, such as the IECC or IBC.

A copy of the 2008 report of the task force on hearings can be obtained from the ICC Web site



Code Arena is brought to you by the America Architectural Manufacturers Association. Julie Ruth may be reached through AAMA at 847/303-5664 or via e-mail at julruth@aol.com.