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Less government will produce better building code policy

As is typical in Louisiana, public policy problems remain unsolved not because government has not addressed them, but because too much government has gone into addressing them.

Such is the case with building codes enacted statewide in the wake of the 2005 hurricane disasters. The laws will increase the ability of new structures to withstand disasters, which should lead to lower insurance costs and less damage if such unfortunate events occur. But complaints have arisen over the increased cost to consumers in all parts of the state, including those where such disasters practically have no chance of affecting structures, and regarding the increased costs of enforcement by governments, particularly from some with jurisdictions over few people with low resources upon which to draw.

Both are legitimate complaints, although in the case of the increased building costs passed onto the buyer some of that would be offset by lower insurance costs. But note that both are caused by increased government regulation that tackles the problem in an inefficient fashion. A far more efficient solution costing less in resources for all concerned would be to let the marketplace organize behavior, rather than doing it by government mandate.

In those parts of the state deemed less in need of protection under the new law, it could be amended to make compliance voluntary, so builders could choose whether to offer structures at the higher standard. If they did, they would have to pay for an inspection by someone licensed by the state to do so, and if the structure passed this would become part of the legal record of the property, allowing insurers to have confidence in offering lower rates on that structure. Then a stable of inspectors could be hired at the state level, to spot check on the private inspectors, and any deficiencies noted could lead to revoking of licenses.

Note how this would take small, resource-poor local governments out of having to hire their own inspectors, and would require fewer private inspections than full implementation of the law now would dictate since some portion of new structures would be built below the new standards (which might satisfy some buyers but also they would face higher insurance rates). Throw in a small state regulatory body and costs should be much lower to government with less government and more freedom afforded to builders and buyers of structures.

If any reform is to be done concerning these codes in the next legislative session, this is the direction it should take.

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