Starting in September, don’t believe anyone who claims to be a licensed plumber.

Following a session of political bickering over the fate of the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners, the agency that oversees plumbing certifications will dissolve as of Sept. 1.

Following the decision, or lack thereof, that placed Texas in this position, advocates have called on Gov. Greg Abbott to bring legislators back to Austin for a special session to address the issue. So far, Abbott has seemed unwilling to do so, famously ending a Monday tweet thanking lawmakers with: “See you in 2 years. NO SPECIAL SESSION.”

Going forward, it’s not particularly clear what that means for plumbers and their customers. Luis Lopez co-owns AM Plumbing in Denton, and he’s been a master plumber for 11 years in Texas. He’s also part of a growing group of plumbers protesting the Legislature’s inaction that led to the decision.

With about 58,000 licensed plumbers across the state, and more than 14,000 working toward that status, Texas is still experiencing a shortage of skilled workers in the field, according to a report prepared for the state Legislature. With the abolishment of any governing agency, the industry is in a strange state of flux.

Luis Lopez, AM Plumbing

Luis Lopez, co-owner of AM Plumbing in Denton, will send some of his staff to the state Capitol in Austin to participate in a rally with other plumbers to lobby against the abolishment of the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners. After Sept. 1, state law will not require plumbers to renew their licenses, pursue continuing education or carry commercial general liability insurance if they operate a business.

As Lopez sees it, legislators’ inaction means either the market will be flooded with uneducated, poorly trained plumbers, or the available stock of reputable plumbers is going to dry up without a credible training system.

“So you either created havoc or you destroyed the system,” he said. “I don’t know which one; it’s insane.”

Beginning Sept. 1, “an individual does not need to be licensed by or registered with the Board to contract for, or perform, plumbing under state law,” according to the lame duck plumbing board.

Until then, the people in the most uncomfortable limbo are probably those making their way through the ranks toward master status — people like Jeremy Saling.

After more than two years as an apprentice under Lopez, and about 3,800 hours, Saling was just a couple of hundred hours away from being eligible to take the certification test to become a tradesman plumber.

With the board that oversees both the examinations and certifications set to dissolve in about three months, Saling isn’t sure what his next step is.

“It’s a very conflicting feeling,” he said. “I don’t know where my future is going to be.”

The uncertainty itself is the worst part for Saling, who is still coming to terms with Monday’s decision.

“I have no idea how anything is going to play out,” he said. “I’m hoping there’s a future for me.”

Saling, along with most other staff at AM Plumbing, is headed to Austin on June 14 for a plumbers rally at the State Capitol. Lopez announced the trip to his employees Thursday.

How’d we get here?

As consumers, perhaps the most worrying change on Sept. 1 will be the lack of mandated insurance for plumbers. Steve Harmon is a master plumber and vice president of Rocking H Plumbing in Seagoville. He’s also the author of a letter being circulated widely by plumbers like Lopez.

“Since there is no longer a General Liability Insurance requirement to perform plumbing, the market will be flooded with uninsured people performing work,” Harmon said via email. “This will, no doubt, affect homeowners insurance rates [and cause them] to skyrocket.”

The plumbing board’s authority is kept in check as part of the Texas Sunset Act. In practice, that means continued legislation is needed to keep it functioning. The Sunset Advisory Committee, chaired by Granbury Republican Sen. Brian Birdwell, recommended that regulatory oversight for plumbers be transferred to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

That recommendation was carried as part of Senate Bill 621, but opposition to the bill arose. House Bill 1550 would have delayed a decision on the board’s fate until Sept. 21, 2021 — after another legislative session. Neither bill made its way to Abbott’s desk; and thus the board’s fate was sealed with the close of the 86th legislative session.

Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, seems to have drawn particular ire from plumbers and their advocates for perceived inaction in preventing the board’s collapse.

Since then, plumbers and their advocates have become increasingly vocal about what this means for Texans, and Paddie has remained a central focus for their ire. In particular, Paddie responded to a Texas Tribune reporter’s tweet about the perilous state of the plumbing board’s fate: “Nope. Agency got flushed.

Tongue-in-cheek or not, Paddie has reportedly received threats directed at his children from his involvement with SB 621.

Lopez said he reached out to a customer with some political power — Rep. Lynn Stucky, R-Denton — but he hadn’t heard back by Friday afternoon. In an emailed response through a member of his staff, Stucky reportedly said he voted to continue state oversight over the plumbing industry.

“The Sunset Commission found there to be serious concerns over the licensing process and the backlog in processing apprentices who were being given the runaround,” Stucky said via email. “I am disappointed the legislature could not come to a resolution on maintaining state oversight of plumbers. We are reaching out to state agencies and local officials to better understand what effect this change will have on regulating the industry, and where Texans can turn to address their own concerns.”

As of Friday afternoon, an online petition calling for a special legislative session had more than 29,500 signatures two days after it opened.

MARSHALL REID can be reached at 940-566-6862 and via Twitter at @MarshallKReid.

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