By Arthur Postal

WASHINGTON—Legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate aimed at providing additional incentives for states to adopt and enforce uniform building codes.

The bill was introduced as one component of a comprehensive push by the insurance industry.

As part of the effort, the industry has created the BuildStrong Coalition in order to create momentum for Congress to pass such legislation, which has repeatedly been introduced in Congress.

Members include national business and consumer organizations, insurance companies, firefighters, emergency managers, and building professionals dedicated to promoting stronger building codes. Its members include the Congressional Fire Services Institute and National Fire Protection Association.

The effort included a hearing before a Senate subcommittee May 8 on the importance of uniform building standards and a forum held May 9 in conjunction with the 25th Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner.

The legislation is the Safe Building Code Incentive Act. The bills, S 905 in the Senate and HR 1878, are chiefly sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla, respectively.

Under the legislation, incentives would be provided for states to adopt and enforce model building codes that meet minimum life safety standards.

Qualifying states would be eligible for an additional 4 percent in post-disaster grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). According to officials of the BuildStrong Coalition, 21 states currently enforce statewide building codes.

Some of these states already qualify for the additional funding, while others would need to make minor legislative adjustments to their codes, according to Jimi Grande, chairman of the BuildStrong Coalition and senior vice president of federal and political affairs for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies.

“The legislation is intended to encourage governors and state lawmakers in other states to put the power of modern building science to work for their homeowners, businesses and taxpayers,” he said.

In testimony Wednesday before a Senate panel, Michael Merwarth, senior vice president and chief underwriter of USAA's Property & Casualty Group, said that Congress should act to create financial incentives for states to adopt and enforce statewide model building codes to prevent losses from natural disasters, save lives, and reduce the need for taxpayer-funded disaster aid.

“Building codes are the best first line of defense against natural disasters,” Merwarth said.

He testified before Subcommittee on Emergency Management of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

“Incentivizing states to adopt stronger building codes will help save lives, reduce property damage, and ultimately save taxpayer dollars,” he said.

The act would encourage the adoption and enforcement of stronger codes by providing greater post-disaster grant funding to qualifying states Merwath said.

His testimony focused on the overwhelming evidence that enhanced statewide building codes provide the most efficient and effective means of protecting communities and reducing damage from natural disasters.

To illustrate his point, Merwarth cited research by the National Institute of Building Sciences that found that every $1 spent to strengthen buildings reduced the need for federal disaster spending by $4.

Additionally, he noted studies from the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center that estimated stronger building codes – which have now been adopted in the state – would have reduced wind damage from Hurricane Katrina by 80 percent, or $8 billion, in Louisiana and by $3.1 billion in neighboring Mississippi.

“The overwhelming evidence supporting the widespread adoption of statewide building codes proves that the Safe Building Code Incentive Act is a fiscally responsible way to make our country stronger, safer, and better prepared for natural disasters,” he concluded.