People who build or repair homes would need to be licensed by the state under a bill that was approved March 24 by the Maine House.

Local legislators were sharply divided on the legislation, LD 272, that was narrowly approved 76-70 in the Maine House.

The Senate has yet to vote on the measure but state Sen. Christopher Rector, R-Thomaston, said now was not the time to enact such legislation.

“This is a major change,” Rector said. “We would be creating a huge bureaucracy with major costs.”

The bill calls for creating a nine-member Maine Residential and Specialty Contractors Board. Contractors would have to apply to that board and its staff would review applications before making recommendations to the board, which would approve or refuse licenses.

Proposals to license home builders have been considered by the Legislature’s Business, Research and Economic Development Committee in each of the eight years he has been in the Legislature, Rector said. The Legislature is slowly moving in that direction, he said, with the approval last session of a statewide building code. But, he said, the statewide code has not been implemented yet.

The majority of the committee recommended that the bill be defeated.

In the House, seven local representatives supported the licensing bill and six opposed it. Two local Democrats joined Republicans in opposing the bill.

Voting for LD 272 were Democratic Reps. Edward Mazurek of Rockland, Chuck Kruger of Thomaston, Andrew O’Brien of Lincolnville, Wendy Pieh of Bremen, Maine House Speaker Hannah Pingree of North Haven, Elsie Flemings of Bar Harbor, Elizabeth Miller of Somerville, and John Piotti of Unity.

Mazurek said he considers the bill a consumer protection law. Licensing contractors would prevent small contractors from coming into town, taking money for a job and then not doing it or doing it poorly.

Kruger said the law would not take effect until mid-2011, by which time the uniform building code would be in effect.

“I don’t believe it will unfairly burden the honest and well-intended contractors in our area, but it will help to reduce the fly-by-night characters who have taken advantage of so many Mainers,” Kruger said.

Voting against the bill were Reps. Joan Welsh, D-Rockport; Wes Richardson, R-Warren; Jonathan McKane, R-Newcastle; Jayne Crosby-Giles, R-Belfast; Veronica Magnan, D-Stockton Springs; and Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport.

There are more than 10,000 builders who would have to obtain licenses, Rector said.

Rector said supporters claim that licensing contractors would prevent unscrupulous contractors from victimizing residents but he argued that the licensing would not stop such behavior, and said there are already laws on the books to deal with contractor fraud. The state senator said the Maine attorney general should be aggressive in prosecuting fraud cases to send the message that fraud will be dealt with harshly.

The local state senator said he preferred to see the voluntary builder certification program developed by the Maine Contractors and Builders Alliance Inc. from Camden. The program offers courses to builders and in the end they are certified. He said residents can contact the alliance to see if someone is certified. He also suggested that people interested in having home repairs or home construction done check with lumberyards to make sure a contractor is reputable and is paying bills.

Richardson said he also considered the licensing bill premature. If one is to be adopted, he said, it should wait until the statewide building code is in place.

Welsh said she would like to have the new uniform building code in place and let people see how it works first.

“Plus, this has been such a difficult time for the building industry, I’m reluctant to impose this new license on them,” Welsh said.

She also urged homeowners to get references before hiring a contractor.