Taking It To The Hill

Real estate and construction organizations build ongoing relationships at the Capitol.

Over the past couple of months, as the latest legislative session got under way, construction and real estate professional organizations “took it to the Hill.” Although there is no overarching event or broad, industrywide effort, a number of organizations spent time on the Hill in Des Moines over a three-week period to bring awareness to the industry’s concerns.

“Our goal is just to build and maintain relationships,” explains Jay Iverson, Executive Director of the Home Builders Association of Iowa (HBA Iowa). “We bring people from all over the state so they can meet with their senators and introduce themselves.”

The Iowa Truss Manufacturers Association (ITMA), American Institute of Architects Iowa Chapter (AIA Iowa Chapter), and the Iowa Association of REALTORS® (IAR), along with numerous related associations, have been coordinating lobbying events like this for at least a decade.

The AIA Iowa Chapter, for example, organizes an annual event, inviting several other related organizations to join for Design Professionals Day on the Hill. This year the American Society of Landscape Architects Iowa Chapter, the Central Iowa Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute, the International Interior Design Association Great Plains Chapter, and the U.S. Green Building Council Iowa Chapter took part.

“The February event marked our tenth year of lobbying at the Iowa State Capitol,” says Jessica Reinert, Executive Director of AIA Iowa Chapter. “During this legislative session our advocacy platform supports three major principles to enhance Iowa’s vitality and viability.”

Focusing on livable communities, sustainability, and quality design, the AIA Iowa Chapter met with legislators to discuss several key issues affecting these areas. Other organizations, such as HBA Iowa, focused their efforts on relationship-building rather than specific issues.

“This is an annual event for us,” Iverson says. “We’re always fighting excessive regulation that drives up construction costs and affects the availability of affordable housing.”

He adds that building these relationships with legislators each year provides a foundation that allows HBA Iowa to have a voice when specific issues do arise.

The Iowa Association of REALTORS® has held an annual Bus-in Day for over 12 years, according to Mark Gavin, Director of Communications and Events for the group. In March eight buses transported over 300 Realtors to Des Moines from all over the state.

In addition to gathering for lunch, the IAR hosts guest speakers before attendees converge on the Capitol to meet with as many representatives as possible. “Dave Roederer, Director of the Iowa Department of Management, spoke about the budget, and Jen Kingland, IAR’s lobbyist, spoke about current issues before the legislature,” Gavin says.

By providing attendees this introduction to hot-button issues, participants can speak more informatively when they meet with their various representatives.

The HBA uses a similar approach. “We have a brochure for members to present to senators,” Iverson explains. “This highlights our organization and the issues we’re concerned about.”

One issue the HBA and AIA Iowa Chapter have both been battling for years is the Statute of Repose, which regulates the length of time a party can be subject to lawsuit after the construction of a home. “We have the longest Statute of Repose in the country,” says Iverson. “The national average is 7 to 10 years. Iowa’s is 15.”

“Given that it’s the owners who control how buildings are treated over this lengthy time period, and with evidence that this treatment—or lack of it—can create problems over which the architect or builder has no control, the current law is unfair to hold architects and builders liable for this long,” Reinert says.

Another key issue for many of these organizations is workforce development, which both the HBA Iowa and the ITMA brought before their legislators.

The IAR also organizes an event in conjunction with the National Association of REALTORS® legislative meetings in Washington, D.C., each year. “In May we’ll take approximately 70 Iowa Realtors to Washington,” says Gavin. “We meet with each of our senators and representatives to discuss federal issues that impact real estate in Iowa and across the country.”

Whether it’s in Washington or here in Des Moines, these ongoing relationship-building events are crucial to the construction and real estate industries. Conversations during these events have provided the opportunity to educate legislators on details about how pending laws and agreements affect businesses and families.

Iverson says his experience discussing the softwood lumber agreement with Senator Charles Grassley several years ago opened his eyes to the importance of these relationships.

“Senator Grassley was part of the Senate Finance Committee working on the softwood lumber agreement between the U.S. and Canada,” he explains. “We discussed how that was affecting lumber dealers and U.S. component manufacturers. Senator Grassley was instrumental in getting the agreement reorganized and getting a balanced system that worked better for those involved.”

“We’re the voice of our industries. Meeting with state and federal lawmakers, being active within our communities, and investing in our associations are all ways we continue to be that voice,” Gavin says.