SB747: Uniform Statewide Building Code; religious exemptions.

SENATE BILL NO. 747

Offered January 21, 2022
A BILL to amend and reenact § 36-99 of the Code of Virginia, relating to Uniform Statewide Building Code; religious exemptions.
Patron-- McDougle

Referred to Committee on General Laws and Technology

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:

1. That § 36-99 of the Code of Virginia is amended and reenacted as follows:

§ 36-99. Provisions of Code; modifications; exemptions.

A. The Building Code shall prescribe building regulations to be complied with in the construction and rehabilitation of buildings and structures, and the equipment therein as defined in § 36-97, and shall prescribe regulations to ensure that such buildings and structures are properly maintained, and shall also prescribe procedures for the administration and enforcement of such regulations, including procedures to be used by the local building department in the evaluation and granting of modifications for any provision of the Building Code, provided the spirit and functional intent of the Building Code are observed and public health, welfare and safety are assured. The provisions of the Building Code and modifications thereof shall be such as to protect the health, safety and welfare of the residents of the Commonwealth, provided that buildings and structures should be permitted to be constructed, rehabilitated and maintained at the least possible cost consistent with recognized standards of health, safety, energy conservation and water conservation, including provisions necessary to prevent overcrowding, rodent or insect infestation, and garbage accumulation; and barrier-free provisions for the physically handicapped and aged. Such regulations shall be reasonable and appropriate to the objectives of this chapter.

B. In formulating the Code provisions, the Board shall have due regard for generally accepted standards as recommended by nationally recognized organizations, including, but not limited to, the standards of the International Code Council and the National Fire Protection Association. Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, farm buildings and structures shall be exempt from the provisions of the Building Code, except for a building or a portion of a building located on a farm that is operated as a restaurant as defined in § 35.1-1 and licensed as such by the Board of Health pursuant to Chapter 2 (§ 35.1-11 et seq.) of Title 35.1. However, farm buildings and structures lying within a flood plain or in a mudslide-prone area shall be subject to flood-proofing regulations or mudslide regulations, as applicable.

C. Where practical, the Code provisions shall be stated in terms of required level of performance, so as to facilitate the prompt acceptance of new building materials and methods. When generally recognized standards of performance are not available, such provisions shall provide for acceptance of materials and methods whose performance has been found by the local building department, on the basis of reliable test and evaluation data, presented by the proponent, to be substantially equal in safety to those specified.

D. The Board, upon a finding that sufficient allegations exist regarding failures noted in several localities of performance standards by either building materials, methods, or design, may conduct hearings on such allegations if it determines that such alleged failures, if proven, would have an adverse impact on the health, safety, or welfare of the citizens of the Commonwealth. After at least 21 days' written notice, the Board shall convene a hearing to consider such allegations. Such notice shall be given to the known manufacturers of the subject building material and as many other interested parties, industry representatives, and trade groups as can reasonably be identified. Following the hearing, the Board, upon finding that (i) the current technical or administrative Code provisions allow use of or result in defective or deficient building materials, methods, or designs, and (ii) immediate action is necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of the Commonwealth, may issue amended regulations establishing interim performance standards and Code provisions for the installation, application, and use of such building materials, methods or designs in the Commonwealth. Such amended regulations shall become effective upon their publication in the Virginia Register of Regulations. Any amendments to regulations adopted pursuant to this subsection shall become effective upon their publication in the Virginia Register of Regulations and shall be effective for a period of 24 months or until adopted, modified, or repealed by the Board.

E. The Board shall have the power to grant exemptions to the requirements of the Building Code where an applicant has filed for a religious exemption and the Board makes the following findings:

1. The exemption is being requested for a legitimate religious or spiritual purpose;

2. The religious or spiritual belief conflicts with a requirement of the Building Code;

3. The applicant has demonstrated that the portion of his belief system that conflicts with the Building Code is historical and not created solely in anticipation of the project for which the exemption is requested;

4. The exemption is not being requested solely for economic, aesthetic, or convenience reasons;

5. Granting the exemption will not override an interest in protecting the health and safety of the general public; and

6. The applicant has taken adequate steps to ensure the project will be brought up to the standards of the Building Code in the event that the applicant no longer owns the building or no longer qualifies for the exemption.