By a vote of 17 to 2, House Bill 4609 passed the House State Government Administration Committee on Wednesday.

The bill, which was backed by the Illinois Association of REALTORS®, would make the state Fire Marshal’s Office go through the full General Assembly if the state agency wanted to make substantive changes to building codes mandating fire sprinklers.

Last year, the Fire Marshal’s office tied to implement tough new rules that would have mandated fire sprinklers in all new residential housing and in older high-rise buildings that had previously been exempted from the rules. The Fire Marshal tried to get the rules change through the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules rather than go through the legislature.

What resulted was a firestorm of opposition as it became clear that the new rules could layer thousands of dollars onto new home construction and condo assessments, and might force rents to soar. The pushback prompted Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitus to pull the rules proposal.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, was adamant that the bill pass out of committee.

“I feel strongly that a mandate is not the solution and the General Assembly should have a voice in this,” she told the committee. “This is not a rule. This is a statewide mandate that would cost taxpayers money.”

Testifying on behalf of REALTORS® was Julie Sullivan, assistant director of legislative and political affairs at IAR. She told the panel only two states have fully implemented a package of proposed code changes that includes the fire sprinkler mandates. “The majority of states pulled that section out,” Sullivan said of the sprinkler mandates suggested as part of the code.

 What’s next? The bill now goes to the House for a vote.