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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Do painters need more regulation?

David Colburn
Posted 3/13/24

REGIONAL- A Minnesota Senate bill to create a licensing system for painters and regulate the purchase of solvent-based paints is causing a stir among do-it-yourselfers and painters alike as many …

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Do painters need more regulation?


REGIONAL- A Minnesota Senate bill to create a licensing system for painters and regulate the purchase of solvent-based paints is causing a stir among do-it-yourselfers and painters alike as many question the need for such legislation.
The bill, introduced by three DFL legislators – Sens. Jennifer A. McEwen, Judy Seeberger, and John Hoffman – would create a six-member painting contractor board that would establish the minimum qualifications for the licensing of paint contractors and journeyworker painters, as well as continuing education requirements.
According to the bill, an applicant for a paint contractor license must:
• Demonstrate to the satisfaction of the commissioner good character, honesty, and integrity.
• Pass a written or oral examination to ensure an applicant’s competence.
• An applicant for a journeyworker painter license must have at least three years of apprenticeship training in painting before applying for and taking the journeyworker painter license examination.
The bill would also restrict the amount of solvent-based paint a regular consumer can buy, limiting it to one gallon or less. Larger sales could only be made to a licensed painter. Household spray paints would be excluded from the restriction.
Tower painting contractor Nick Levens is willing to allow a little latitude for regulating large commercial contractors who take on specialized painting projects, but believes the bill goes too far to include established local painters like him. Levens said he’s been painting for 25 years, typically has four-to-eight employees, and does about a quarter of his work painting residential new construction, another quarter doing repaints, and about half commercial painting.
“I’m not qualified to paint a bridge or some industrial coatings, but I’m overly qualified to paint a bedroom or an exterior of a house,” he said. “I can see (licensing) being necessary in some aspects of the trade, but definitely not all of them. A lot of painters never get involved in the type of painting that, in my opinion, would require advanced training or advanced personal protection. It’s overregulating an industry that doesn’t necessarily require everyone to fall under the same umbrella.”
Levens said the profession is basically self-regulated in the different types of painting that are performed.
“If the state of Minnesota is looking for someone to bid on the repainting of a bridge, they’re not calling me for that project. I don’t have a bond, I don’t have infrastructure, I don’t have the labor force to do that work,” he said. “And a residential builder wouldn’t call the people that paint bridges to come paint their bedroom. We specialize in things that we can handle that we’re qualified to accomplish, and we’re competent. It’s like a residential contractor wouldn’t put up a skyscraper, right?”
Because of the specialized nature of various types of painting, Levens guessed that he might be challenged to pass a general licensure exam without some intense study,
“A lot of it will be classroom work based on use of specific chemicals and coatings and confined spaces and PPE,” he said. “It’s probably real technical work, which there’s definitely a place for, but it probably requires sitting through nine months to two years of classroom training. A lot of it would be bookwork based on specific scenarios where you would have to be exposed to the technical answer to pass the test. I could perform and pass with flying colors a test on the products and techniques I use day to day, but someone else that uses a different skill set would probably have a tough time. A shop like mine with five or six painters with a firm grasp of what we do would have a real problem going in and taking and passing a test that doesn’t have anything to do with my aspect of the trade.”
Levens likened it to a test most adults are familiar with, a written driver’s license exam.
“A lot of people couldn’t pass their driver’s test today,” he said. “You really have to refresh yourself to relearn technical answers that override your experience. I’m an experienced driver with a clean driving record, but I would probably have trouble with some specific answers that you would only know if you were fresh out of the class.”
Levens worries about the impact a new licensure system would have on his business, particularly if he had any problems with the process.
“I don’t necessarily see where more regulation or a license is going to do anything other than affect people financially,” he said. “I built my whole career on this, and if I had to start over or really change what I was doing, my whole family and all of my employees would be impacted by it, to the point where I don’t know how I would even succeed.”
And it would definitely affect his customers, too.
“The price tag for a residential consumer would probably double, which makes it unaffordable for a lot of people to have a professional come in and do their painting,” Levens said. “And there’s very few painters painting rurally.”
The apprenticeship requirement for journeyperson painter licensure aligns with the programs already offered by the Little Canada-based Finishing Trades Institute, the official training center for the International Union of Painters & Allied Trades District Council 82. The alignment bolsters the claims of many that the bill is designed at least in part to benefit unionization of the painting industry.
Levens affirmed that he is not anti-union but expressed concerns for the challenges of those would-be apprentices in terms of lifestyle, travel, and cost to access those opportunities, particularly given the level of skills needed to do the type of work he does that he’s been able to learn primarily in-house.
“It seems to me that it’s not settled enough to make an informed decision by the Senate, like the ramifications or the downstream effect is yet to be determined,” Levens said.
Levens also wondered how the new board would assess the morality component of the licensure requirement.
“Here’s a real-life scenario. I worked with a man who was incarcerated 25 years ago and he just sold a very successful drywall and painting company up here,” he said. “He’s gone on to do great things with his life, maintain sobriety and that lifestyle. Would that person be penalized or called out by the morality board, or whoever is going to dictate (the requirements)? It seems crazy. And if you’re going to do that for the painting trade, you should do it for the concrete trade and the roofing trade and the plumbing trade, and why stop there?”
Levens said he is certainly not alone with his concerns about the bill.
“I’ve talked to other people about this, like my paint rep at the Sherwin-Williams store in Virginia. Most accredited painters are working out of that store, and they failed to see the issue, and they’re boots on the ground. No one would know more than they do about who’s doing what, and if people are having problems. I didn’t hear any of that. But people are quite interested in this.”
The Timberjay contacted International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 82 via email asking for a representative to comment on the bill and possible benefits that could come from its passage, but they did not respond prior to press time. The Timberjay also contacted Sen. McEwen’s office for comment on the bill. The senator did not respond prior to press time.