Analysis of Interior Design Legislation

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2019 Senate Bill 303 │ 2019 Assembly Bill 324

Proposed Legislation relating to Registration & the Scope of Practice of Interior Designers

Proposed legislation has been introduced in the Wisconsin Legislature that would significantly revise existing state law governing the registration of interior designers and the scope of interior design practice.

The proposal runs counter to prevailing trends in support of deregulation initiatives to eliminate or reduce state occupational licensing requirements. Arguments put forth by proponents of interior design regulation directly challenge architects and existing state statutory requirements enacted to protect public health, safety and welfare.

UPDATE: The Wisconsin Senate passed Senate Bill 303 in January 2020 and sent it to the Wisconsin Assembly. AIA Wisconsin testified in opposition to the proposed legislation. The proposal, if passed by the Assembly and signed into law by the Governor, would allow Wisconsin registered interior designers to practice architecture and submit plans for interior projects that do not affect the mechanical or structural systems of a building. AIA Wisconsin believes the legislation is unnecessary because it does not protect the consumer or enhance public safety. The following analysis, published in July 2019, highlights the significant problems with the proposed legislation.

The following offers an analysis of the proposed interior designer legislation in relation to existing state law governing the use of the title “Wisconsin registered interior designer” and the practice of architecture.

Wisconsin Registered Interior Designers

Proponents of regulating interior design note that Wisconsin has a voluntary registration option for interior designers.

Fact: Currently, anyone can hold themselves out to the public as an interior designer and provide interior design services. Wisconsin only regulates the use of a specific title – “Wisconsin registered interior designer.”

Wisconsin’s Title Law – Existing Wisconsin Statutes (Chapter 440 Subchapter X) and related administrative rules (SPS 130) govern who may use the title “Wisconsin registered interior designer.” These statutory provisions and rules do not regulate the practice of interior design – anyone can offer to provide and provide interior design services in Wisconsin. Wisconsin is one of 19 states, including neighboring Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa, that have voluntary title registration for interior designers with no permitting authority. In addition, 21 other states, including Michigan, have no title laws or permitting authority for interior designers at all.

Education, Experience & Examination

Proponents of regulating interior design argue that interior designer registration requires industry recognized credentialing and rigorous testing.

Fact: There are significant differences in registration requirements for interior designers compared to architects.

Interior Designers – Interior designer certification is the responsibility of the Council of Interior Design Quality (CIDQ), an independent nonprofit entity. Required interior design experience may be self-reported with no independent verification. The CIDQ examination consists of three sections with 370 questions and takes a total of eleven hours to complete. Only 15% of the CIDQ examination questions are related to codes and standards.

Architects – Wisconsin and all other states have laws establishing minimum education, experience and examination requirements to become registered as an architect. Qualifying work experience is documented as part of the Architect Experience Program (AXP) and verified by registered architects supervising the work. All states utilize the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) developed by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). NCARB represents state registration boards appointed by Governors. Wisconsin is a member and represented by the Architect Section of the Joint Examining Board. In contrast to the interior designer exam, the ARE is made up of six separate tests, includes 605 questions and takes 21 hours to complete. At least 22% of the ARE is related to building code issues, which is required to pass the exam.

Public Health & Safety

Proponents of interior design regulation argue that Wisconsin interior designers must jump through additional hoops to utilize their knowledge and qualifications.

Fact: Interior designers in Wisconsin, whether registered with the state or not, currently may provide their services on larger commercial building projects than their counterparts in neighboring states as well as in most other states in the country.

Exempt Buildings – Wisconsin Statutes allow any person, firm or corporation, including interior designers, to prepare plans for and/or supervise the construction of buildings containing less than 50,000 cubic feet in total volume. In addition, state law allows anyone, including interior designers, to make repairs or interior alterations to buildings which do not affect health or safety. Wisconsin’s 50,000 cubic foot exemption is one of the largest allowed by any state in the country. In contrast, Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois do not have any similar floor area or building volume exemptions.

Architects & Professional Engineers – To protect public health and safety, Wisconsin Statutes (Chapter 443) and the Wisconsin Commercial Building Code require the involvement of a registered architect or professional engineer for the design and construction of larger buildings. An architect or engineer must be responsible for preparing the plans and specifications for and supervising the erection, enlargement or alteration of any building containing 50,000 cubic feet or more in total volume, including additions and structural alterations. Building owners are required to have a design professional and a supervising professional for building projects of this size. If a building is 50,000 cubic feet in total volume or greater, the plans must be prepared, signed, sealed and dated by a Wisconsin registered architect or engineer. The architect or engineer serving as the supervising professional is responsible for on-site observations to determine if construction has been completed in substantial compliance with the approved plans and specifications and to confirm the building is safe for its intended occupancy.

Wisconsin Occupational Licensing Study

Proponents of regulating interior design argue that the proposed legislation expanding the scope of interior design services would reduce the cost of conducting business.

Fact: A recent legislative report on state occupational licensing requirements recommended that Wisconsin eliminate the existing title registration for interior designers because it is such a burdensome requirement.

State Occupational Licensing Study Report – The Wisconsin Occupational Licensing Study Legislative Report, submitted by the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) in December 2018, recommended the elimination of the state’s current title registration for interior designers. According to the report, there are 248 individuals registered to use the title “Wisconsin registered interior designer.” The report noted that “only 4 other states regulate” the practice of interior design and that the “regulation of interior designers has been identified by several studies as the most burdensome licensing requirement of all occupations.”

Plan Stamping

Proponents of interior design regulation argue that for certain projects interior designers must get their plans approved by architects, increasing project costs for reviews that often are not thorough and a passive fulfillment of an obligation.

Fact: Attempts to justify expanding the scope of interior design services in this way demand specific examples because such anecdotal allegations convey the impression that architects and professional engineers are violating state law by stamping plans that have not been prepared by them or under their personal direction or control.

Aiding Unauthorized Practice – Wisconsin Statutes (Chapter 443) and administrative rules (A-E 8) related to professional conduct prohibit registered architects and professional engineers from impressing their seal or stamp on documents that they have not prepared or have not been prepared under their personal direction and control. This activity is referred to as “plan stamping” and is considered aiding the unauthorized practice of architecture or engineering. Architects and professional engineers who engage in this activity put their license at risk.

Faster & Cheaper

Proponents of interior design regulation argue that allowing interior designers to stamp or seal remodeling plans will increase competition in the construction industry and enable interior build-out projects to be delivered faster.

Fact: Wisconsin’s design and construction industry already is extremely competitive, with constant pressure to design and build projects as rapidly and inexpensively as possible. It is important, however, to recognize that the pursuit of faster and cheaper buildings may conflict with the critical goal of protecting public health and safety, which is the purpose of state laws and regulations governing the practice of architecture and professional engineering.

By the Numbers – To protect the health, safety and welfare of the public, Wisconsin has regulated the practice of architecture since 1917. According to a table in the DSPS Wisconsin Occupational Licensing Study showing the number of active licenses, there are 4,846 architects licensed in Wisconsin, 16,162 professional engineers and 248 interior designers. Roughly a third of the registered architects are residents of Wisconsin. A recent list provided by DSPS contained 213 Wisconsin registered interior designers, including 23 individuals with addresses outside of the state.

History – Representatives of Wisconsin architect and interior designer organizations reached an agreement in 1995 regarding a proposed title law for interior designers. While architects supported the proposal, the Wisconsin Department of Regulation & Licensing opposed the legislation. The law, which remains in effect today, governs the use of the title “Wisconsin registered interior designer” and does not contain stamp or seal provisions. The legislation was consistent with a national accord at that time between organizations representing architects and interior designers. As part of the agreement in Wisconsin, the interior designer organizations agreed not to pursue a practice act.

National Registration Standards

Proponents of interior design regulation argue that the proposed legislation would bring the state in line with national industry standards and remove unnecessary additional requirements.

Fact: Existing Wisconsin title law already relies on the national standard examination developed by the Council for Interior Design Qualification (CIDQ) and mirrors the education and experience requirements established by this independent nonprofit group.

Examination – Proposed interior design legislation would delete examination process outlined in 440.963 and replace it with registration requirement in 440.962(1) (am) that refers to examination approved by DSPS. The reality is that DSPS already uses the national CIDQ examination.

Education & Experience – The proposed legislation also would delete existing education and experience requirements from state statutes, relying instead on the education and experience requirements established by the CIDQ. The CIDQ has the ability to adjust these requirements in the future without state approval. Interior designer candidates must complete the education and experience requirements prior to taking two of the three sections of the CIDQ examination. Authorizing an independent third-party entity to establish minimum education and experience requirements effectively removes legislative oversight of this aspect of the interior designer registration process. This would be contrary to recent legislative activity to reign in the ability of state agencies to promulgate administrative rules without specific statutory authority. In addition, current CIDQ requirements seem to conflict with 2013 Wisconsin Act 114 that prohibits requiring any education beyond high school to be eligible to take a state licensing examination.

Other Issues & Concerns

New Definitions – The proposed legislation contains new definitions for “interior design,” “interior alteration or construction project,” “interior life safety” and “interior technical submission.” These new definitions lack clarity and are subject to interpretation. They fail to delineate a clear separation between interior design services and professional services that require the involvement of an architect or professional engineer. As proposed, there appears to be no limit on interior design services in relation to the size or type of project. The proposal for Wisconsin registered interior designer stamps and seals is likely to create confusion among building code officials and within the design and construction industry. It will further complicate an already complex plan submittal and review process as well as procedures for building inspection, code enforcement and occupancy permit in place to protect public health and safety.

Professional Liability – As licensed professionals, architects and professional engineers are prohibited from hiding behind any type of corporate veil to limit their personal liability. Whenever architects provide professional services and impress their stamp or seal on documents, they are putting their personal assets at risk. Architects can purchase professional liability insurance to protect themselves from the long tail of liability exposure associated with building projects. This insurance is expensive, has high deductibles and is offered only on a “claims-made” basis, requiring the coverage to be carried into retirement. The proposed legislation would appear to expose Wisconsin registered interior designers to similar personal risk and professional liability, increasing the cost of providing their services.

Professional Conduct – Architects and professional engineers must comply with state rules governing professional conduct (A-E 8). No similar state professional conduct requirements exist for interior designers. The professional conduct rules for architects require, among other things, that offers to perform professional services shall be truthful, clients be immediately informed of any conflicts of interest, nothing of value may be solicited or accepted from material or equipment suppliers in return for specifying a product, and no agreement may be entered into that limits professional judgment related to public health, safety and welfare. The proposed legislation does not address the need for disclosure when an interior designer is receiving a commission or compensation for the sale of materials they specify.

Regulatory & Enforcement Structure – Currently, Wisconsin registered interior designers are credentialed directly by DSPS. No interior designer section or board is proposed to assist with the interpretation and enforcement of statutory requirements and related administrative rules. In contrast, the Architect Section of the Joint Examining Board of Architects, Landscape Architects, Professional Engineers, Designers and Professional Land Surveyors is made up of three professional members and two public members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. The section reviews complaints against registered architects and enforces the laws and administrative rules governing the practice of architecture. In addition, the Joint Examining Board helps resolve potential gaps and overlaps among the represented professions.

Continuing Education – Wisconsin registered interior designers are required to complete at least 9 hours of continuing education every two years to renew their certificate of registration. There are no current or proposed requirements that any of these continuing education hours be related to health, safety and welfare issues. In contrast, architects are required to complete at least 24 hours of continuing education every two years to renew their license, with at least 16 of these hours related to health, safety and welfare issues.

July 2019

AIA Wisconsin

Founded in 1911, AIA Wisconsin is the state society of the American Institute of Architects. With over 1,500 individual members, AIA Wisconsin represents architects and allied professionals in private practice, business, industry, government and education.

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