NC: Landscapers Say New Legislation is 'un-American' 

By Andrew Schultz

The Hendersonville Tribune

August 15, 2002

Some lawmakers and lobbyists are trying to pass a bill that would forever change landscaping in North Carolina for the worst, say members of the grassroots organization Stop Bill 984. One landscaper labels the maneuver "un-American".

If passed, House Bill 984/Senate Bill 893, sponsored by Representative Pryor Gibson-D, will require those engaged in the work of landscaping to become licensed landscape contractors accountable to a state licensing board, with a mandate of re-certification and continuing education every year. The proposed Bill states, "no person shall engage in the practice of landscape construction...unless the person is licensed as a landscape contractor under this chapter."

According to section 3 of said chapter, a landscape contractor is "Any person who, for compensation or other consideration, does any of the following: Engages in the business requiring the art, experience, ability, knowledge, science, and skill to install, plant, repair, and maintain gardens, lawns, shrubs, vines, trees, or other decorative vegetation."

The Bill claims an exemption for "Any person performing landscape work where the price of all contracts for labor, material, and other items for a given job site during any consecutive 12-month period is less than seven thousand five hundred dollars ($7,500)."

Applicants seeking a landscape contractor license must prove at least 3 years experience or the educational equivalent, before taking an examination administered by the North Carolina Landscape/Irrigation Contractors' Board. The Bill says, "The Board shall establish the scope and subject matter of the examination to be administered." Members of Stop Bill 984 contend that much of the "subject matter" is unnecessary to their work. "You have to identify 250 plants from here to the Outer Banks," says one landscaper.

"Pass that Bill, destroy a dream," says handyman Stephen Leggett. Eighteen year-old Nick Gilliland, says Bill 984 would darken his future harder. Having spent years working by his father's side, Nick plans on following in dad's footsteps doing general landscaping and lawn maintenance. Should the Bill pass, Nick would be required to work for 3 years as an employee of a licensed landscape contractor before considering going into business for himself. "It seems a simple man wanting to mow some grass won't be able to," he says. "I'm kind of getting discouraged by all this."

A grandfather clause allows seasoned applicants to be licensed without taking the examination. The clause states, "A person shall be issued a landscape contractor's license, without the requirement of examination, upon payment of the application fee [$100.00] and submission of an application showing that the person has generated at least 25 points before July 1, 2005."

According to section 4, points are awarded as follows:

(1) Twenty-five points for a person who is a registered licensed landscape contractor on September 30, 2002.

(2) Two points for every proven year of experience approved by the board, with a maximum of 20 points.

(3) Ten points for a four-year degree in a field approved by the board.

(4) Five points for a two-year degree in a field approved by the board.

(5) Five points for each professional certification approved by the board.

(6) Five points for a license issued by the North Carolina Pesticide Board in accordance with Article 52 of Chapter 143 of the General Statutes.

(7) Three points for membership in a professional association approved by the Board, with a maximum of nine points.

(8) One point for attendance at a professional meeting or other event approved by the Board.

Most of the members of Stop Bill 984 say they would be grandfathered in. Nevertheless, they are fighting the measure, believing it takes away their rights as free citizens. "I see this as coming against my freedoms given in the Constitution," says Jack Crowder.

Stop Bill 984 says the annual continuing education and re-certification courses required by the Bill will ultimately mean an overall increase in cost to the customer.

John Ross, member of the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Landscape Association (NCLA), an organization that supports Bill 984, says continuing education and the time spent on re-certification shouldn't raise the cost to consumers "but I can see some people using it as an excuse." Doug Gonce, Clear Creek Lawn and Landscaping, disagrees, saying a member of the NCLA told landscapers they should support licensing as it would afford them a higher cost of living by allowing them to charge more. 

Supporters of the Bill say it will increase the level of professionalism and protect the customer from shoddy work. The State of Oregon has enforced similar rules for the last 17 years, according to Mike Snyder, Administrator of the Landscape Contractors Board for Oregon. Snyder says the benefits of landscape contractor laws have been tremendous in his state. "Consumer protection and environmental protection is real important here in Oregon. Everybody thought landscaping could be done by anyone. The consumer is the one who suffers." Snyder admits, "[laws] make it more difficult for people to get into landscaping," but adds, "I think that's a good thing." When asked if licensing raises the cost to consumers Snyder admits, "yes it raises the cost. But the [required] bond raises the level of competence."

One landscaper says, "A man's work should be judged on its own," not if the worker has a college degree. Many agree that the business, in its current form, is "self-regulated" by the quality of work as determined by the customer. Stop Bill 984 claims a state board is unnecessary, because "You cannot legislate quality." If someone's work is shoddy, they believe his reputation will force him out of work. "We're not just a bunch of dumb guys with lawnmowers," says Jack Crowder. "A lot of us have taken the horticultural program at Blue Ridge Community College. We have pesticide licenses we renew."

Local representatives have decried House Bill 984/Senate Bill 893 as being "unnecessary". Representative Trudy Walend says, "I'm totally opposed to the Bill. I think the majority of people are opposed to it." Walend says Bill 984 "would have a drastic affect [on landscapers]" and believes, "It's really unnecessary for the work they do." In April of this year the Henderson County Commissioners contacted other county commissioners and encouraged them to tell their Representatives to oppose the Bill. Commissioner Don Ward says many of the counties, and their Representatives, weren't even aware the Bill was being considered. Ward says of the Bill, "basically it's a bureaucratic Bill to raise money on the backs of the landscapers."

Some say Bill 984 is being encouraged by large companies in an attempt to put small landscapers out of business. "They want the little guy out to where they could raised the cost of labor," says Hamilton. "That's what the whole thing boils down to." Stop Bill 984 claims the NCLA and the Bill's sponsor are attempting to "piggyback" it into the general assembly on a piece of legislation "that has a better chance." They say hearings for the Bill are purposely changed without notice, making it increasingly difficult for opponents to organize protests in time. Representative Gibson did not respond to the Tribune's requests for comment at the time of this story's printing.

Ross says Bill 984 "doesn't include people who just do maintenance." An exemption states that those engaged only in "ground maintenance items of lawn mowing, turf edging, debris blowing, debris removal services, mulching or maintenance pruning" will not be licensed. Members of Stop Bill 984 are skeptical, saying, based on the wording, there's no guarantee this exemption will remain long after 984 is passed. "Mowing and blowing is the next thing we're looking at licensing [in Oregon]," admits Snyder.

Representative Pryor Gibson - 919-715-3007

Stop Bill 984 - 692-0067

For a copy of Bill 984, visit: H893


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