ICC Changes Offer Bigger Voice to Industry

Julie Ruth
May 2, 2009
COLUMN : Code Arena | Codes & Standards

The only constant in life is change. These include new ways of getting things done, such as the use of a smart phones to check our e-mails, or the use of a Web tools like GoToMeeting to facilitate the effectiveness of our conference calls. Many changes are made because progress in technology makes them possible and cost effective.

More recently, however, the International Code Council has made very significant changes to the process they use to maintain their family of International Codes, for very different reasons. ICC has been struggling with growing pains that have been brought on by the burden of its own success. One or more of the International Codes are now being enforced in all 50 states, and some foreign countries. This growth has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in participation in the ongoing development of these codes.

For example, the number of code change proposals submitted almost doubled from 2000 to 2008. Even with two tracks of code hearings running simultaneously, strict limitations on testimony time and permitted floor modifications, the 2008 hearings ran for 13 days. Many days stretched from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. or later. It is a strain for any entity to send their representatives to hearings that last that long.

In 2007 the ICC board of directors created an ad hoc hearings task group which was predominately charged with looking for ways to reduce the overall length of the hearings while maintaining the integrity of the ICC governmental consensus process. Other aspects of the hearing process, such as use of electronic voting, were also included within the scope of the ad hoc task group.

Over the course of the conference calls, meetings and member forums held by the task group at the ICC conferences, the committee wrestled with the primary problem that there were simply too many proposals to be processed within any one time period. Other aspects of the process, such as floor modifications and the need to sometimes have multiple parts of a proposal heard by separate committees, aggravated the problem.

The task group considered various possibilities; eliminating floor modifications at the code development hearings, restructuring the committees to reduce or eliminate the need to have multiple parts of a proposal heard by separate committees, and lengthening the code change cycle to 2 years with just one code change cycle between each edition of the I-codes and a new edition published every two years.

An option of splitting the codes into two groups and staggering the code change cycles for each while maintaining two complete code change cycles between editions of all I-codes was also considered. The later plan would have required changing the publication schedule for the International Codes from every three years to every four. Overall, the task force found the concept of breaking the codes into two groups and only dealing with one group during each code change cycle appealing. There was concern, however, about what impact the change in publication schedule (from every three years to every four) would have on the revenue stream for ICC. Sales of publications (new editions of the codes, along with supporting documents such as commentaries and training materials) are a major source of revenue for model code agencies.

In August 2008, the task force issued a report to the ICC board recommending eliminating floor modifications at the code development hearings and restructuring the code change committees and their scope to the extent possible, to reduce the number of multiple parts of code change proposals heard before separate committees. The extent of the later was limited within the parameters of a memorandum of understanding ICC had with the National Association of Home Builders. The ICC board responded favorably to these recommendations, indicated initially they would be incorporated into the 2009/2010 cycle of ICC code change hearings and appropriately revised the ICC procedures for code development (Council Policy #28). And we all started trying to figure out just what that meant to us.

In February 2009, however, the ICC board announced a dramatically different revision to its code change process. They broke the International Codes into two groups and reduced the number of code change cycles for each code between editions from two to one. A new schedule staggers the code development between the two groups and maintains the three year publication cycle that had been previously established.

The result is that in the future there will be years (i.e. 2012, 2015, 2018) when only code change proposals to the International Building Code (except Chapter 1–Administration), the International Fuel Gas Code, the International Mechanical Code, the International Plumbing Code and the International Private Sewage Disposal Code will be heard. These will be followed by years (i.e. 2013, 2016, 2019) when only changes to the International Energy Conservation Code, the International Residential Code, International Fire Code, International Urban Wildland Interface Code, International Existing Building Code, International Property Maintenance Code, International Zoning Code and Chapter 1–Administration provisions of all the International Codes, will be heard.

The years 2009 to 2011 will be a transition period. The most prominent change for 2009 will be that all code change proposals for the 2012 editions of the International Codes are due April 24, 2009. After that date there will be opportunities to submit public comments, but no further opportunities to submit code change proposals.

The other significant change that will occur in the 2009/2010 code change cycle is that the importance of assembly votes at the code development hearings will be enhanced. The initial vote taken on each code change proposal at the code development hearings is by the code change committee. If a member of the audience does not agree with the position taken by the committee, they can call for an assembly vote. All ICC members (including members of industry) in attendance at the hearings are eligible to vote on the assembly vote.

Previously, the impact of a successful assembly vote on a code change proposal was not that great. If the assembly vote was for action different than that taken by the committee, it simply meant that the proposal was automatically on the agenda for the final action hearings. At the final action hearings a simple majority of all ICC governmental member representatives (code and fire officials only, no industry representatives) was needed to uphold the committee, and a two-thirds majority was needed to overturn the committee.

Under the new policy, if an assembly vote during the code development hearings is successful, then that becomes the initial motion made on a proposal during the final action hearings and only a simple majority vote will be needed to uphold that motion. Any subsequent motions, other than disapproval of the proposal in its entirety, would require agreement by two thirds of the eligible voters–ICC governmental member representatives–present. This might include upholding the initial vote of the committee.

To help illustrate how this might work, suppose there is a proposal before a code change committee that says, “All windows shall be red,” and the committee votes to approve it, with a modification so that it now says, “All windows shall be very red.” If an ICC member in the audience disagrees with that decision, they can call for an assembly vote. The assembly vote can either be to approve the proposal as originally submitted (“All windows shall be red”), approve the proposal with a different modification (“All windows shall be blue”), or disapprove the proposal all together.

Let’s say the assembly motion is for approval as submitted, and the motion is successful (A two-thirds majority of all ICC members present vote for it). That motion will then be the initial motion made on that proposal at the final action hearings, and it will only require a simple majority to be upheld. Any other motions other than disapproval of the proposal, such as further modifying it to require all windows to be very red, would require a two thirds vote.

Why am I going into so much detail on this? Because it means all ICC members–including anyone from a window and door manufacturer or industry supplier who is a member of the ICC–will have the opportunity to vote on the regulations that will be established for our products during the ICC code development hearings in Baltimore. Those  votes will also carry greater weight than they did before.

The ICC board wants to increase participation in the code development hearings by the ICC membership. In the past there has been criticism by some ICC members that their attendance at the code development hearings is not really needed, since the committee has the vote and any assembly action carried little weight. This change in the policy is intended to counter that concern.

The ICC board has also addressed concerns that the change in procedures will adversely affect the update of currently referenced standards by revising Council Policy #28 to permit the update of any standards currently referenced in the International Codes that are completed by December 1, 2011, in the 2012 editions of the International Codes. Drafts of any standards newly proposed for reference in the 2012 International Codes will need to be submitted by the April 20, 2009 deadline and published and readily available by the final action hearings for the applicable code in 2010.

More information on the changes to the ICC Process 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.