The Free Press, Mankato, MN


May 15, 2014

Our View: Sprinkler requirement over reaches

Why it matters: A last-minute controversy requiring sprinklers in homes may derail bonding bill

We are nearing the end of the Minnesota legislative session and that means it’s time to play “chicken” or maybe “hot potato.”

That’s when legislation that is thoughtfully negotiated and carefully crafted nears the final leg when suddenly some hot button issue gets lobbed in, at times, as a ploy or, at other times, as an embarrassment.

That’s what’s happening when the Senate inserted a small provision into the $1 billion capital investment package that bans requiring sprinklers be installed in large new home construction.

This has been an ongoing battle ever since the 2009 International Residential Code adopted the requirement that “effective January 1, 2011, an approved automatic fire sprinkler system shall be installed in new one-and two-family dwellings and townhomes.”

Builders have fought the rule saying it would add thousands of dollars to the cost of construction of homes

According to the Fire Protection Research Foundation, the cost would be about $1.35-$1.61 per square foot. Since the code requirement would be for homes larger than 4,500 square feet, the minimum cost would be about $6,000 more.

In the past, Gov. Mark Dayton supported such a code requirement at the urging of fire officials saying “I simply do not see how we can further jeopardize the lives of the individuals whose mission is to protect the public and who risk their lives on a daily basis.”

During a press conference Monday, he threated to take down the capital investment bill along with the sprinkler provision saying “I will not have something rammed down my throat.” Dayton doesn’t have line item veto power on this type of provision so he would have to veto the full package.

The problem, however, is the provision apparently has bipartisan support and Republicans – who previously opposed the sprinkler when they controlled the legislature – are hinting it is critical in getting their support for the borrowing package which is needed for the measure to pass.

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