New legislation may soon create a separate structural engineering license in the State of Florida. The move toward structural licensure is well underway due toHouse Bill 217 and Senate Bill 338. Under the proposed legislation, structural engineering is defined as “a service or creative work that includes the analysis and design of significant structures.” What constitutes a “significant structure” will be determined by the Florida Board of Professional Engineers. If enacted, the new law will require an applicant for a structural engineering license to pass a 16-hour structural exam and demonstrate four years of active structural engineering experience. Under the current law, engineers are required to pass an 8-hour exam and demonstrate four years of general engineering experience.
The bill includes a “grandfathering” provision for engineers already licensed and performing structural engineering services in Florida. In order to bypass the new exam requirement, a currently licensed engineer must submit an application to the Board prior to February 28, 2020 along with an affidavit stating that he or she has been actively engaged in the practice of structural engineering for at least four years and that he or she is willing to meet with the Board to discuss his or her qualifications for a structural license.
Proponents of the legislation say the licensure is necessary to ensure that engineers are adequately educated and trained in the area of structural engineering in order to protect the public from structural failures. One of the deadliest structural failures in history was the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,100 people. Locally, those in Northeast Florida will recall the tragic 2007 Berkman Plaza parking garage collapse in downtown Jacksonville that killed one and injured 20 more. The new licensure is also said to be aimed at addressing rapidly evolving technology in the profession, increased consumer expectations and other emerging issues, including state hurricane wind-force requirements.
Opponents of the legislation say it simply is not needed under the current rules governing the engineering profession because those rules prohibit engineers from performing engineering services in areas in which they are not qualified by training or experience. Additionally, engineers that currently provide structural engineering services are required to comply with specific structural responsibility rules promulgated by the Florida Board of Professional Engineers. Beyond that, some opposed to the legislation believe the new licensure requirements will drive up prices for structural engineering services and that other engineering disciplines, such as geotechnical and mechanical, will also soon be subject to separate licensing requirements.
Florida is not the first state to consider or enact separate licensure requirements for structural engineers. Illinois and Hawaii require a separate structural engineering license for the design of all structures. Five other states (California, Nevada, Utah, Oregon and Washington) have varying design thresholds for which a separate license is required. In California, for example, a separate license is only required for the structural analysis and design of schools and hospitals. Will Florida be the next state to require a separate structural license? We will soon find out.