In the annals of the Texas Legislature, what happened this week might be a first. A North Texas lawmaker answered one of his critics by reading aloud a negative Yelp review of him at a public hearing.
Dismayed that a slew of Austin-area roofers came to the state Capitol to slam his roofer regulation bill, state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, fought back.
Gio, as he's called, is one of the Legislature's more adept users of social media. So when he sat in the back of a hearing room Monday working his cellphone, he could have been checking his Twitter feed or his popular Facebook page.
Instead, he was researching critics who resent his attempts to bring law and order to the crime spree that has overwhelmed legitimate Texas roofers. Out-of-state hustlers and storm chasers overrun hail and storm victims, perform shoddy work and, at worse, take their money and never return.
Even so, in-state roofers testified at a House hearing this week that a new law isn't needed. Critic after critic of the proposed legislation urged consumers to check the internet — specifically the Better Business Bureau and Yelp — for roofer reviews. So Gio did.
Then he stood before a House committee and read one of the reviews:
"This is someone you want to stay away at all cost," the review began, about a roofer who had testified moments before. The job wasn't completed, so the customer hired someone else, which infuriated the original roofer (the one who testified against the bill).
"I was scared as he was not acting like a normal person," the review continued. "He then called me and threatened me if I posted any negative feedback."
Gio said he wanted to show that online reviews could never be as accurate and fair as his proposal for state oversight. Let's not "let the internet dictate whether someone is good or bad," he said.
Gio's bill, which has been strengthened, now requires all roofers who do jobs other than new construction to be registered with the state. Without that mandatory registration, a roofer would not get cleared by a city, county or state building inspector.
House Bill 3293 also creates an advanced voluntary certification program for roofers who want to demonstrate expertise and honesty to customers. This requires a criminal background check, proof of insurance and a physical address in the state.
The bill also creates a roofer code of ethics and enforcement penalties (a violation is a misdemeanor). And it prohibits roofers from paying a customer's insurance deductible to win business, a common but illegal practice.
Critics of the bill said they are against any regulations because laws to prosecute criminals are already there. They said small roofers would be hurt and big-company roofers would benefit.
Bill supporters say that control over roofers is badly needed across the state.
Gio was joined by fiery Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, a co-author of the bill. At the hearing, Goldman criticized bill opponents for offering no other solutions.
"I'm a free marketer — until you screw Grandma — and that's what's happening," Goldman said bluntly. "It's rampant and a major problem that needs to be fixed."
What's next? The bill must be passed out of the House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures, voted on by the full House and, if passed, sent to the Senate for more of the same. The legislative session ends May 31.
Staff writer Marina Trahan Martinez contributed to this report.
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