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12/21/2006

Legislature eliminates impediment to electronic plan transmission

ACEC Ohio proposal adopted in capital budget bill

Ohio professional engineers will soon be able to electronically transmit an "official" set of plans bearing their digitally encrypted registration seals and signatures thanks to adoption of an ACEC Ohio proposal in the final days of the 126th Ohio General Assembly.

The $1.8 bill capital improvement budget bill passed by the House and Senate earlier this week includes language drafted by ACEC Ohio which eliminates a provision in the state's engineering registration law that effectively prohibited PEs from transmitting a sealed set of plans by electronic means.

Currently, section 4733.14 of the Ohio Revised Code requires professional engineers to remove any form of PE seal from plans they transmit electronically. Further the law requires that electronically transmitted plans bear the disclaimer that, "This document is not considered a sealed document."

The ACEC Ohio amendment in the capital bill, which will take effect 90 days after Governor Bob Taft's expected signature, eliminates this language allows engineers and surveyors to manually seal and sign their plans and documents or affix "a computer-generated seal and electronic signature and date. . . ."

ACEC Ohio worked closely with the State Board of Registration for Professional Surveyors in pursuing the amendment to the registration law. The board expects to begin work on administrative rules regulating the use of digitally encrypted seals and signatures early in 2007. Those rules are likely to be closely patterned after model rules developed by the National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors.

Several factors drove ACEC Ohio's initiative to enable digital sealing and signing of electronically transmitted plans.

Architects, who already are authorized to use digital seals and signatures in Ohio, are increasingly asking their engineering subconsultants for M-E-P plans in electronic format. Larger building plan agencies around the state, including the Ohio Division of Industrial Compliance, are strongly encouraging engineers and architects to submit plans electronically to expedite the receipt of building permits.

The capital budget bill is developed jointly by the Governor, Speaker of the House and President of the Senate and once it is introduced, it is very difficult to obtain any amendment, so when the bill was introduced December 5 without ACEC Ohio's language, it appeared the effort to change the law might have to wait until 2007.

It is a testament to the effectiveness of ACEC Ohio's legislative counsel, Luther L. Liggett, Jr. and others at the law firm of Bricker & Eckler, that they were able to lobby successfully to have the language amended into the bill a week later as it was receiving hearings in the House Finance & Appropriations Committee.


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