For more than two years, Dallas lawyer Steven Badger has worked to regulate roofers in Texas. He talked to various parties, gathered information and helped write a proposed law that would have required storm-chasing roofers to register their name, address and phone, like in other Gulf Coast states.
His interest? He represents insurance companies and learned about hundreds of North Texas victims who lost money to scammers. He saw what The Watchdog has reported on for more than a decade: Bad roofers and take-the-money-and-run con men flourish in the open.
“I’m just a guy who cares,” Badger says. “I’m not a politician. I’m not a lobbyist. I’m just a guy who’s seen a lot of people ripped off, and it makes me sad.”
In some ways, Badger, who is appropriately named, was successful. His ideas were incorporated into a roofers registration bill offered by state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the bill made it all the way to the full House for a vigorous debate and a recorded vote, something that hasn’t happened in the many years I’ve watched roofer oversight bills flounder and fail.
But what happened on the House floor during that debate and subsequent vote shows why the roofing industry will continue to go unregulated into the distant future.
Who’s to blame? Badger points to four people who killed the bill. He’s naming names. And so am I.
Lone Scam State for roofing
When it comes to post-storm roofing repairs, Texas is the Lone Scam State.
House Bill 2101 was laughably easy to comply with. It didn’t apply to crew members on the roof, only to the company’s owner and whoever is selling the contract to a homeowner.
“No insurance requirement” for roofers, Badger says of the bill. “No education requirement. Just a simple registry. It was so minor. It wasn’t going to prevent all abuse, but when guys started ripping people off, we could take away their registration.”
The cost for registration: $250. Cities and counties could withhold permits if a roofer wasn’t registered.
It wasn’t a more demanding license, a dirty word among limited-government Republicans who dominate the Legislature.
Who was against it? Four people are the apparent ringleaders:
1. Frank Fuentes of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He told me, “An unintended consequence would have been to target small businesses of whom a preponderance are Hispanic.
2. Carl Isett, a lobbyist for Texas Independent Roofing Contractors Association, a mysterious group that doesn’t reveal information about its membership.
Isett told me he is against government intervention on small businesses. “These are just guys on roofs trying to make a living and feed their family,” he said.
3. Jon Conner, the founder of the mysterious independent roofers group. He did not respond to an interview request.
4. State Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, who described himself to me as “a 25-year contractor that’s done over a hundred million dollars in business” — but not in roofing.
On the House floor, Romero was the front man for the group. Romero told me he favored voluntary registration, but not mandatory as the bill required.
Romero said that Capriglione, known in the statehouse by his nickname Gio, shouldn’t have introduced the bill because he’s not a contractor like Romero. “It really needs to be a contractor,” he said. (No one else would do it, though.)
A whisper campaign ensued, Gio recalled. He was accused of being racist, targeting Hispanics. Even though the registry wouldn’t require any information about laborers, word spread that the registry would serve as an unwelcome list of Hispanic laborers. Hardly.
“That’s the hill we were trying to climb this time,” Gio said.
When I asked Romero about any racial component in the opposition, he answered, “If you include that in your piece, you’re really taking away what you’re trying to do. Giovanni should not have been talking about anyone saying anything racist. No one mentioned anything racist except for Giovanni. That’s so classless.”
The House debate before all members was a pingpong argument between Gio and Romero, back and forth, “between the mikes” as they say about the two microphones in the front (Gio) and back (Romero) in the chamber.
Gio talked about scammers.
Romero countered, “I don’t believe the problem is as great as it is.”
Romero claimed to his House colleagues that roof costs will go up because of the $250 fee. “You will completely change the roofing industry forever,” he threatened.
Gio: “All I’m asking for is a name and address.”
Democrats, scared off by Romero’s assault, joined with Republicans who — on principle, they claim — don’t want any restrictions on small business owners.
The vote: 99 against and 33 for.
“It was just brutal,” says Gio, who got 21 other bills passed this session. “It’s the first time I ever lost a vote on the House floor.”
Badger recalls, “It was a stampede. It was misinformation. When it got out on the House floor, they worked it into a frenzy.”
Some lawmakers say consumers should use Angie’s List to shop for a roofer. Others says consumers need to be smarter about whom they hire.
“It’s really upsetting to hear that,” Badger says. “They don’t get the calls I get each week from victims.”
How’s Badger coping with the loss? With anger and frustration.
“From this day forward,” he vows, “every person who calls me who has been ripped off by a bad roofing contractor will be told to contact Rep. Romero, Carl Isett, Frank Fuentes and Jon Conner.”
“I don’t see roofing regulation legislation ever passing in Texas,” says the guy who cares.
Note: For his efforts, I am inducting Badger into The Watchdog Hall of Fame. (See sidebar.)