Calendar: 2021BY C. KEVIN FLEMING, PE, FBPE Chair (2021)

Happy New Year from your Board. By the time you are reading this, 2020 will be in the rearview mirror, and speaking for myself, I am looking forward to overcoming the challenges of last year in the new. May 2021 be much better for you personally and professionally, no matter how you faired over the past 12 months.

It is customary to acknowledge the outgoing Board chair, and I do so without any hesitation and with heartfelt gratitude for Mr. Varghese’s service to the Board and to the licensees of our state. Babu Varghese, PE, SI, has served on FBPE since 2015. He continues to sit on several committees, and was elected as its chair for 2020.

I am sure that he had no idea what the year would have in store as he took up the gavel last January. Mr. Varghese has navigated the stormy seas of travel restrictions, impacts of COVID-19 to our licensees, Board member attrition, Zoom, and a host of other stones in the road over these past 12 months.

Through it all he has provided leadership and maintained an active and productive Board, and indeed has been instrumental in the adoption of new rulemaking to help licensees continue in their practice. I thank Babu personally for his outstanding effort and accomplishments.

I am very proud, but not surprised, that the Board was “full steam ahead” in the past year. The Florida Board of Professional Engineers has as its administrative and enforcement organization the Florida Engineering Management Corporation, or FEMC (FEEM-ick, as it’s fondly referred to).

FEMC provides all the services and more to Florida licensed Professional Engineers that the Department of Business and Professional Regulation provides to licensed individuals in the other professions. Even with the disruption of COVID, the accomplishments of the management corporation have been simply astounding.

In March, as the state initiated restrictions on travel, certain business operations, public worker schedules, and a host of other activities, FEMC’s executive director, Zana Raybon, began a program that provided support for employees working from home. The transition was seamless and has continued to be so.

In July, FEMC was required to cut its fiscal budget by 6 percent. Although not without some hard decisions, the executive team and FEMC’s board of directors produced a budget meeting the state requirement, with no reduction in personnel or employee salaries and benefits. Through the use of technology and re-thinking how every task might be efficiently handled in a work from a distance environment, FEMC has continued to provide an exceptional level of service to licensees and to the Board, and has done so while meeting a reduced budget.

Emergency Signing and Sealing Rule Ends

Rule 61G15‐23.004, Florida Administrative Code, Procedures for Digitally Signing and Sealing Electronically Transmitted Plans, Specifications, Reports or Other Documents, is very specific about what requirements must be met when using digital signing methods.

Licensees should know that digital signatures are only applicable to engineering documents in digital form, and that all such digital signatures must meet a number of criteria. Furthermore, the signature must be linked to the document in such a manner that the signature becomes invalid should there be any change to the document contents. Digitally signed documents are only valid in the digital form and printed copies are not considered signed.

In August, the Board passed emergency rulemaking that allowed engineering documents in digital form, and digitally signed, to be printed, and the printed copy to be used for any purposes for which a digital document was acceptable. The objective of the emergency rule was to allow for printed (physical) document transfer between licensees and other parties to proceed with no face-to-face interaction. Our licensees include those in vulnerable populations, and they should be able to continue working normally while choosing to maintain isolation.

Emergency rules cannot extend indefinitely, and after being extended one final time, the emergency rule expired on Dec. 31, 2020.

Threshold Inspectors (Limited)

Over the past several years the Board has heard from a significant number of licensees who specialize in “restoration work” — that is, the design and inspection of structural repairs to existing buildings. In some jurisdictions of late, these licensees have been prohibited from continuing to perform services on those facilities meeting the criteria of “threshold building” as defined by the Florida Building Code (FBC). Unfortunately, when these same licensees apply to the Board for Special Inspector of Threshold Buildings (SI) certification, they most often do not meet the criteria of Rule 61G15-35.003, F.A.C., Qualification Program for Special Inspectors of Threshold Buildings.

After much deliberation and input from the public, practitioners, and the societies and associations, the Board has adopted as rule the requirements and application for certification as Special Inspector of Threshold Building (Limited). These Threshold Inspectors (Limited) will not be certified to provide the full range of SI services to new construction or substantial structural alteration, but will be certified to continue working in their specialized field of restoration. It is the Board’s intention to “re-open” the business of design and inspection of repairs to existing buildings to licensed practitioners with appropriate experience and qualifications.

License Renewal

Feb. 28, 2021, ends our licensure biennium. All licensees wishing to maintain licensure in Florida must renew by that date.

Part of renewal consists of fulfilling the continuing education requirements established by the Legislature in Chapter 471.017, Florida Statutes, Renewal of License, and the rules promulgated in Chapter 61G15-22, F.A.C., License Renewal, Continuing Education.

As part of the last renewal cycle, 3 percent of the approximately 44,000 licensees were selected for audit. Fully 101 were found to be out of compliance and were prosecuted. By extension, that means 7.6% of us (approximately 3,300) are not fulfilling our continuing education obligations. Moreover, when applying for renewal, each of us is attesting to have completely and properly met the requirements for CE.

As a profession we simply must do better.

If you haven’t renewed yet, read the rules in 61G15-22 again, and ensure you have completed the required CE when you renew. If you have already renewed, are you certain you are in compliance? Remember, should the renewal date pass, and continuing education is not properly completed, the Board may administer discipline against your license should you be audited.

A New Year’s Resolution for Us All

As I close, I am reminded of a common New Year’s resolution, that the beginning of the year is a great time to clean up and get organized!

When is the last time you have reviewed your contact information on the Department of Business and Professional Regulations’ website? It is necessary for timely communications that all licensees maintain current physical and email addresses with DBPR.

And since New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken, we are reminded that Section 455.275, F.S., Address of Record, states in part:

(1) Each licensee of the department is solely responsible for notifying the department in writing of the licensee’s current mailing address, e-mail address, and place of practice, as defined by rule of the board or the department when there is no board. A licensee’s failure to notify the department of a change of address constitutes a violation of this section, and the licensee may be disciplined by the board or the department when there is no board.

I am excited, and have just a touch of apprehension, about what the coming year will bring to me as a Florida license holder, small businessman, and as Board chair.

As for the latter, I know your Board will continue to create meaningful rule language while eliminating unnecessary or overly restrictive rules, closely monitor the qualifications of applicants for licensure, and enforce vigorously in order to protect the health and safety of our residents and visitors.

About the Author

C. Kevin Fleming, PE, is …