In what might be akin to the battle cry “Remember the Alamo!” the lighting design community now has its own call to arms—“Remember Texas House Bill 2649 (THB2649)!” Not quite as catchy, I know, but for lighting designers, the stakes are just as high.
For those who might not be aware of what I am referring to, let me explain. An urgent news release issued by the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) late in the evening of May 26 alerted its members that the Texas Legislature was scheduled to vote the next day on Texas House Bill 2649 (THB2649). The proposed legislation related to the regulation and practice of engineering and lighting design. Specifically, Sections 3, 5, and 6—an amendment not part of the original bill—restricted the practice of lighting design only to licensed engineers, architects, landscape architects, and interior designers. The bill made no recognition of the National Council on Qualifications for Lighting Professions (NCQLP) exam or individuals who have passed this exam and received the Lighting Certified (LC) designation.
Over the course of the next 48 hours, the lighting community pulled together in the most extraordinary way to resolve this issue before the Texas state legislative session closed. Hundreds of e-mails and phone calls were made to the Texas state senators and representatives who authored the bill, expressing grave concern and requesting that this amendment item be removed from the bill entirely. News updates were made via e-mail blasts, online news articles, blogs, LinkedIn Discussion Boards, and Twitter. In the end, this grassroots effort proved successful and the “lighting designer” language in THB2649 was withdrawn and replaced with language requesting a study by the Texas Department of Licensing & Regulation of the feasibility of licensing in the industry.
Although the immediacy of this situation has resolved itself, this incident urgently highlights three critical issues the lighting industry has long shrugged off—licensing and qualifications, open communication with allied design professions such as architecture and engineering, and the need for the lighting design community to have a full-time advocacy/lobbying voice. It would be a mistake to think that all of the work is complete with this one victory. Rather, the lighting community should use this experience to start a committed and open dialogue on the subject of credentialing, and acknowledge that the NCQLP has not fulfilled its promise of demonstrating value to either the public or the lighting industry. The NCQLP needs to step forward and act as the governing body it was meant to be. If the NCQLP exam and the Lighting Certified designation does not carry the weight to be meaningful to people inside the lighting community, then how can it be expected to hold up to people outside the lighting community who are not familiar with the practice of lighting design?
The issue is important enough to warrant the creation of a special task force with representatives from within and outside the lighting community to lead and monitor the discussion and prepare recommendations for establishing a credentialing system that recognizes the myriad ways one can enter the practice of lighting design, including (but not limited to) architecture, engineering, interiors, and theater. This system must validate the profession not only in the eyes of the lighting community, but associated disciplines and the public.
THB2649 also calls attention to a greater need for communication with colleagues in other design disciplines. In fact, it was the lobbyists for the Texas Society of Architects who alerted Austin, Texas–based architect and lighting designer Charles Thompson about THB2649. Thompson then alerted the IALD, and the rest, as they say, is history. Had our friends in the architectural community not extended a hand, we would be dealing with a very different outcome.
Finally, THB2649 necessitates the need for a full-time monitoring system of the legislative issues that impact the lighting design community. The IALD's creation of a public policy liaison is a great step forward, but the situation in Texas proves that this position needs to exist in a full-time capacity, not part time. I hope the IALD will make this modification. It also illustrates that lighting practitioners have the responsibility to act as advocates and keep a watchful eye on issues affecting them at a local level.
THB2649 shows how easy it is for those who are not familiar with lighting design—in this instance, politicians—to potentially dictate the fate of a profession. Until a clearly defined system of credentialing is established, we run the risk of similar legislative scenarios occurring. Let's address this once and for all before we find ourselves in for another rude awakening.