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Washington state bill for warranties on new homes appears dead

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OLYMPIA, Wash. -- A measure that would require warranties on new homes appears to be dead this session, with Speaker of the House Frank Chopp saying the bill needs more work.

But the Democratic senator who sponsored the measure said he would continue to push the bill this session and accused Chopp of caving in to the Building Industry Association of Washington, which has vigorously opposed the measure.

"I can see no other explanation," Sen. Brian Weinstein, D-Mercer Island, said Thursday. "This is outrageous ... I can't believe he would just kill this bill."

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said Thursday the Senate would continue advocating the measure.

"I think it's a good piece of legislation," Brown said. "I think it's already been well worked on. I don't think it's over."

Chopp, D-Seattle, told The Associated Press that lawmakers should treat the bill as they did in passing a measure that dealt with condominium liability in 2004 after two to three years of working toward a resolution.

"Should there be warranties? Yeah, there's a logic to that," Chopp said Wednesday, "but also we want to do the right thing."

On the condo bill, "everybody was at the table getting to a workable solution. That's what I'd like to do with the homeowner warranty issue.

"I'm suggesting we work through the interim" and return in the next session or two with a bill that could be passed unanimously, he said.

Chopp's spokeswoman said he had no comment Thursday on Weinstein's accusation that he had capitulated to building interests.

Senate Bill 5550, the so-called "Homeowners Bill of Rights" measure, passed the Senate 30-19 earlier this month and was approved Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee.

The bill would, starting in July 2008, establish transferrable warranties for new homes built in the state to protect against:

-- Defects in materials and workmanship for two years.

-- Defects in electrical, plumbing, heating, cooling and ventilating systems for three years.

-- Defects resulting from water penetration for five years.

-- Structural defects for 10 years.

A committee would study issues facing the construction industry and issue recommendations to the Legislature by the end of this year, but the warranties would still take effect July 1, 2008.

Several homeowners testified at hearings about shoddy construction, including water damage, mold problems and builders abandoning half-built homes.

"Home buyers have no protection here," Weinstein said. "You buy a house and things start leaking in a year or two and you're out of luck."

Insurers and the BIAW counter that the bill would lead to more litigation and higher liability insurance premiums and would drive small businesses out of the construction industry.

"This legislation will do more to hurt affordable housing than anything we've seen recently," BIAW spokeswoman Erin Shannon said.

Weinstein said Chopp was wrong to compare his bill with the condo bill that passed three years ago. There have been warranties on condos in state law since 1990 and the legislation in 2004 simply clarified existing language, while current law fails to guarantee warranties on new houses, he said.

"We don't have to study whether or not we need a warranty," Weinstein said. "The people of Washington need a warranty right now," he said.

He said he'd be open to more study on other issues surrounding the home construction industry, such as insurance and whether the state should require more inspections.

Rep. Brendan Williams, D-Olympia, who sponsored the companion bill to Weinstein's measure in the House, said he would work to convince Chopp to take up the measure this session rather than settling for a study of the issue.

"I would resign my House seat if we were not able to bring hope this legislative session to those pursuing the dream of home ownership," Williams said.

Associated Press Writer David Ammons contributed to this report.

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