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Bonding bill forbids requiring home fire sprinklers

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota firefighters lost a battle in a state Senate committee Wednesday when the panel voted against requiring fire sprinklers in some new homes.

Firefighters converged on the state Capitol to fight the controversial provision that would have forced builders to install fire sprinklers in new homes 4,500 square feet or more. The Senate's public works funding bill, which approves public construction projects, contains a provision that would forbid the state from requiring sprinklers.

"It is going to have a large negative impact, certainly on the cost of new homes," bill sponsor Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer, said of a proposal to require sprinklers.

The Stumpf provision incited a battle between Democrats.

Sen. Scott Dibble, D-Minneapolis, said such a "very controversial and hotly contested" issue should not be contained in the public works bill, also known as the bonding bill.

"You are basically holding us hostage," Dibble told Stumpf because he supports the bonding proposal and would be forced to vote against sprinklers.

"It's a poor way to do larger policies not related to bonding," Dibble said.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said that forcing sprinklers to be included in new construction could make it impossible for some people to afford homes. Builders say sprinklers could add $11,000 to a home's cost.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the average Midwestern home is about 2,000 square feet, less than half the size that could be required to have sprinklers.

Stumpf said that requiring the sprinklers could be especially hard on people building in rural areas. He said many rural wells may not be able to supply enough water to service the sprinklers.

California is the only state with a requirement to have sprinklers in large homes, Stumpf said. More than 40 other states have rejected the idea, he added.

Fire officials told reporters before the Finance Committee meeting that they support requiring sprinklers in large Minnesota homes because it would save lives. They said a Lakeland woman who died in a house fire last weekend may be been saved had the home had sprinklers.

The bonding bill is due to be debated in the full Senate in coming days.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.