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Legislators consider changes to certificate of

merit law and CPC requirements

 

Posted March 20, 2019

As state legislators work through the 2019 session of the Maryland General Assembly, MDSPE is endeavoring to pass two bills on behalf of professional engineers.

HB848/SB320 would clarify Maryland law regarding the process of obtaining a certificate of merit in a lawsuit against an engineer or other licensed professional. Current law states that a claimant can only proceed with a suit against an engineer if the claimant obtains a certificate of merit from a qualified expert, such as another professional engineer, who has reviewed the situation and can attest “that the licensed professional failed to meet an applicable standard of professional care.”

MDSPE supports the certificate of merit requirement but insists that the process of obtaining a certificate is mishandled in some cases and those situations harm professional engineers. Specifically, some claimants swamp engineers with requests for unnecessary information and documentation, causing engineers to incur exorbitant legal bills as they vet documents before releasing them. In some cases, that practice has prompted engineers to settle complaints out of court even when there was no finding of negligence.

When MDSPE members discussed the issue at the 2018 annual conference, “we had a very different idea of what a bill addressing this issue would look like,” said Chris Costello, Senior Partner with Public Sector Consulting Group.

After consulting with lawyers and legislators, however, MDSPE determined that we don’t need to change the law to ease this problem. Rather, we need to clarify and uphold the law.

Consequently, the bill currently before Maryland legislators would simply change the wording of Maryland law regarding certificates of merit. The change would stress that engineers only have to turn over documents that are “reasonably necessary” for an expert to complete an assessment for a certificate of merit. Engineers who receive requests for documents that seem to go beyond that ‘reasonably necessary’ standard, could ask a judge to rule on whether they need to comply with those document requests.

The bill has received mostly favorable responses from members of the relevant House and Senate committees. MDSPE also averted opposition from the state’s trial lawyers by amending a portion of the bill that lawyers found objectionable.

“It’s a good bill and we’ve done good work moving it past any major hurdles,” Costello said.

The House Bill (HB848) passed the House of Delegates 135 - 0 and is currently awaiting a hearing in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.  The Senate Bill (SB320) did not receive a committee vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee

During the session, MDSPE has also been working to pass HB998/SB655 – legislation that would amend some licensing requirements for professional engineers. That legislation was not able to gain passage this session. This is not an unusual outcome given the unique nature of the bill and the uncertainty expressed by several committee members in the House and Senate.  The interim before the next General Assembly session convenes will allow the Society to focus attention on key members of the committees that will decide the legislation when it is re-introduced in 2020.

The proposed legislation would require all professional engineers in Maryland to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam. Currently, engineers who do not have a college degree but gain their license following 12-plus years of engineering work experience, do not have to take the Fundamentals exam.

The bill would also lay the groundwork for negotiating reciprocity agreements with other states regarding professional engineer’s licensing and Continued Professional Competency requirements. Delaware currently accepts the licensing and CPC credentials of Maryland engineers without requiring any additional training or testing. Under the proposed legislation, Maryland would grant the same recognition to engineers who meet Delaware’s licensing and CPC requirements. The bill would also create a means of negotiating similar, reciprocal agreements with other states.

While the bill has gained support among some legislators, the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation has not yet endorsed it and has raised questions about some of the bill’s wording and the practicality of negotiating reciprocal licensing agreements. 

“We know this is the right thing to do. It will just take some additional time and conversations between General Assembly sessions to educate enough people about this issue,” Costello said. 

 

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