Interior Designers Suffer Three Setbacks

The Justice Department has turned down the request from interior designers that the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) be investigated for alleged antitrust violations. The Justice Department has informed lawyers representing the interior designers that the actions taken by NCARB in opposing interior designer licensing laws do not warrant an investigation by the Department.

A complaint against NCARB on behalf of the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) was sent to the Justice Department on June 9, 2000, just one week before NCARB member boards were to vote on a resolution at their annual meeting opposing the further enactment of interior designer licensing laws. Notwithstanding the attempt by NCIDQ to enlist the Justice Department to intimidate NCARB member boards, the member boards voted overwhelmingly (40-5-1) in favor of putting NCARB on record as opposing further interior design licensing laws.

Since the passage of that resolution, the efforts of the interior design legislative coalition have been thwarted in two important jurisdictions. In California, after spending $184,000 on direct lobbying fees and contributing substantially more money to the campaign chests of key legislators, the interior design coalition won legislative enactment of a practice act in California. But on September 10, Governor Gray Davis vetoed the legislation with these words:

"This bill creates a new regulatory program for an industry where there is no demonstrated consumer harm . . . [It] is unclear as to what, if any, consumer protection would be served. Government intervention in a marketplace should be reserved for cases where there is consumer harm."

The Governor's conclusion echoes NCARB's conclusion in its white paper on "Registration Efforts by Interior Designers," issued in 1992, that the activities of interior designers did not substantially impact the health, safety, and welfare of the public.

On October 15, 2000 the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies reported to the Colorado legislature its evaluation of the application by interior designers for the enactment of interior design licensing in that state. After an exhaustive review of the status of interior designer legislation in other states and an analysis of whether or not there is a public need for regulation, the Department concluded:

"...that regulation of this profession is not necessary. The applicant has not demonstrated that the unregulated practice of interior design within the State of Colorado clearly harms or endangers the health, safety and welfare of the public. Consumers have the means to verify the credentials of interior designers in order to make their own informed decisions. They also have the provision in the Colorado Consumer Protection Act to pursue damages in relation to a violation of deceptive trade practices."

The interior designers argued in Colorado that the enactment of the 2000 International Building Code necessitated the enactment of a licensing law. Otherwise, they asserted, they would not qualify as "registered design professionals" under the language of the International Building Code. The interior design forces had been lobbying the code authorities for several years to replace code references to registered architects and engineers with the language "registered design professionals." They were successful in that effort. Now they argue that their success is a hollow victory unless Colorado enacts a licensing law. The Department interviewed building officials across the state and found no sympathy for the interior designer position. The Department's conclusion, on this point, is entirely consistent with NCARB's findings published in May 2000 under the title, "How Building Officials Interact with Registered Architects and Engineers." Building officials rely heavily on the requirement that architects or engineers have prepared the technical submissions they receive before permitting a project. Those building officials do not welcome including interior designers as qualified to prepare and submit technical submissions on projects not exempt under state law.