In 2018, the Sunset Advisory Commission – which evaluates state agencies and makes recommendations to the legislature – received a Staff Report expressing concerns regarding the effectiveness of the Texas Board of Professional Land Surveying (TBPLS) regulating land surveyors. The Commission subsequently recommended consolidation with the Texas Board of Professional Engineers (TBPE) to create a unified board: the Texas Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors (TBPELS).
This recommendation became a reality when representative Poncho Nevarez and Senator Dawn Buckingham filed House Bill 1523 earlier this year, ultimately signed by Governor Abbott and became effective on September 1, 2019.
Why Did the TBPE and the TBPLS Merge?
The TBPLS was an independent entity since 1979. The board’s mission statement was to establish and enforce standards ensuring the competency of individuals licensed as land surveyors resulting in the orderly use of our physical environment for the protection of our citizens, the current and future property owners, of Texas.
However, the Sunset Commission staff report indicated it was “failing to meet its fundamental duties and responsibilities to protect consumers.” The TBPLS was taking an average of 813 days to resolve a complaint and struggled with a backlog of cases, with some dating as far back as 2012.
When reviewing its licensing and enforcement functions, the Sunset Commission Staff also found certain requirements did not align with practice standards. The report stated multiple licensure requirements were considered “overly restrictive,” such as requiring applicants to adhere to character, reputation and fitness evaluations, which were not authorized by Texas law, as well as an unnecessary requirement to be a Texas resident.
Exam development and administration processes also created an “unnecessary” burden on TBPLS staff and applicants. Over the years, the board administered its paper-based exam just twice a year and only in Austin, limiting opportunities and increasing exam costs for applicants.
Additionally, Texas is the only state that does not outsource the advanced-level Practice of Surveying Exam to the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). Instead, the TBPLS used a process involving three advisory committees with more than 40 members to develop its exams. Questions were raised about consistency and fairness since passing rates varied widely from 26 percent to 62 percent.
Changes to Texas Land Surveying
The consolidation of the TBPE and TBPLS brings multiple positive changes to the practice of land surveying, most notably changes to applicant requirements.
The bill also amends the Texas Occupation Code allowing the board to waive the requirement that an applicant must hold a bachelor’s degree. Now, applicants with an associate’s degree and at least 32 credit hours in acceptable courses may apply to be an RPLS. However, an applicant with an associate’s degree will be required to hold a certificate as a surveyor-in-training (SIT) – which is the first step in becoming a registered land surveyor – and have at least two years of experience as an SIT before becoming an RPLS.
To ensure land surveying is better regulated, the TBPELS is required to create an advisory committee for the sole purpose of providing advice and recommendations on land survey regulations. Under the bill, the TBPELS board is required to seek advice and recommendations from the advisory committee before adopting any rules related to the scope of the practice.
Going forward, the board has the authority to outsource the development and administration of the SIT, RPLS, reciprocal and Licensed State Land Surveyors (LSLS) exams. By allowing the board to outsource the exams, applicants can take the test at a variety of locations across Texas throughout the year.
Additional changes resulting from the consolidation include the following:
- License and firm registration will expire every other year as opposed to every year
- Statutes were clarified to realign complaint intake and investigation procedures with model standards to streamline the process
- A staggered renewal system for licenses and registrations has been established
- Disciplinary history is to be published online
Regulations pertaining to the practice of engineering are not affected by the merger. Click here to view answers to frequently asked questions about the consolidation.
Why the Merger is Important
Land surveyors play a vital role in Texas, especially in the state’s real estate boom. Inaccurate work can result in expensive legal battles and potentially strip a landowner of their right to property they legally purchased. By consolidating the TBPE and the TBPLS into the Texas Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors, the board can address the multiple issues impacting its efficiency.
By streamlining complaint procedures and assigning new methods for renewal and licensing processes, employees of the board can ensure they are licensing the highest quality personnel to survey land in the Lone Star State.