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Contractor registration draws pessimistic opposition

Paul Snyder
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Opponents of state contractor registration have little chance of killing the law this session, but that will not keep them from trying.

State Rep. Roger Roth, R-Appleton, said he will introduce a bill seeking the repeal of a law he said is unfair to builders in the state.

“The opposing party seems to want to go heavy-handed on contractors,” he said. “If I can put it out there and at least get a hearing, I think in the long run it will bring us closer to repealing it.”

The state Department of Commerce enacted an emergency rule March 2 requiring contractors pay $100 to register with the department’s Division of Safety and Buildings if their work is regulated under any state codes affecting public and commercial buildings, one- and two-family dwellings, and public swimming pools. Registration lasts four years.

The registration deadline was July 1, but the department is still averaging about 50 new registrations per day, said Robert DuPont, director of Commerce’s Bureau of Program Development. And contractors still will have time to register as Commerce matches its rule to a contractor registration law passed in the state budget.

In addition to requiring contractor registration, the 2009-11 Wisconsin budget gives Commerce the right to fine contractors not in compliance with state codes. DuPont said fine amounts have not been established.

Commerce’s contractor registration rule expires this week when it hits a 150-day emergency rule time limit, so the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules will decide Wednesday if it should be extended 60 days. DuPont said the permanent rule will be decided by Oct. 1.

Roth said his bill to repeal the law passed in the budget should be introduced by early August, and he wants to have a hearing as soon as possible.

Although the bill is unlikely to make it to the governor’s desk, building group representatives say they want the hearing.

“It’s an issue that deserves more debate and discussion,” said John Mielke, vice president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin Inc. “Especially with the inclusion of forfeiture, it basically gives Commerce the authority to write a ticket on the spot.”

Mielke said Commerce has expanded its forfeiture authority in the last couple of years, which concerns builders and causes confusion about which contractors are under watch.

“They have the authority to issue forfeitures on plumbing licenses, and there was talk about it with regard to electrical licenses,” he said. “It shouldn’t be done piecemeal.”

Brad Boycks, director of government and political affairs for the Wisconsin Builders Association, said Commerce does not need to police the industry because local law enforcement already handles most contractor-related complaints effectively.

“If there’s a problem with a contractor in Winnebago County, for instance,” he said, “then the state can take it up with the district attorney in that county.”

There are concerns, and lawmakers should be involved in making changes, Mielke said, but not through state agency rules or as part of a state budget with no time for outside debate.

Roth also tried to kill Commerce’s emergency rule, but the legislative budget review began before his bill made it to committee.

“The parties involved here are passionate and motivated,” he said. “They deserve a fair hearing.”

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