Starting January 1, 2014, architects who apply for an occupational license in Texas will have to share their fingerprints with the state. Texas House Bill 1717 [PDF], passed earlier this year, says that applicants seeking a license from the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners must submit "a complete and legible set of fingerprints, on a form prescribed by the board, to the board or to the Department of Public Safety for the purpose of obtaining criminal history record information." The FBI would also have access to all those fingerprints.
The requirement applies not just to new applicants, but also to licensed architects seeking to have their registrations renewed. Violators face a fine of up to $5,000 per day in which they are not in compliance with the new law. Currently only one other state (Massachusetts) even runs criminal background checks on architects. Now Texas is upping the ante.
“Sometime back, the legislature became convinced that if there was an individual licensed by the state who had access to someone’s kids, to their house, to their money, or to drugs or explosives, then steps needed to be taken to do a more thorough background check,” David Lancaster of the Texas Society of Architects told The Architect's Newspaper. Lancaster told the paper that his group believed fighting the legislation would be "futile."
Architects in the state aren't alone. The Texas Medical Board requires fingerprints for medical licenses and the Texas Nursing Board requires them for nursing licenses. Same goes for every job type governed by the Texas Racing Commission (ranging from assistant farrier to race announcer to jockey), as well as real estate agents, lawyers, and speech language pathologists.
But just because it's happening to almost everybody else in Texas doesn't mean it should be happening. "Please understand — and believe — that your TxA advocates did everything possible to suggest that architects are the professional that least needs to be fingerprinted — if they need to be fingerprinted at all," Lancaster wrote in an open letter to members. Lancaster's belief is shared by legislators outside Texas. In no other state in the country are architects submitted to fingerprinting.
For some professions, fingerprinting makes sense. In the 1990s and early 2000s, states began requiring public school teachers to submit to fingerprinting. Despite teacher resistance, this is now a common practice across the country, largely because the argument for it—schools should do everything they can to keep sex offenders out of the classroom—has been so persuasive. Fingerprinting people who work in the defense industry also makes sense.
But fingerprinting architects and other professionals essentially means every person seeking a licensed job in Texas has to join a database of potential criminal suspects. It could also allow the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners to discriminate against architects with criminal records.
So what happens if an architect in good professional standing is revealed to have a minor crime on his record due to being fingerprinted? Could he lose his license, despite the quality of his work? The TBAE absolutely reserves that right. "There are criteria that TBAE Enforcement staff consider in these reviews, and mitigating circumstances include how long ago the conviction was, whether it was related to the practice of the profession, and more."