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Licensing may go under 1 roof

By Dan Shaw

The potential merger of the state’s main licensing agency and consumer protection department could fulfill remodeling contractor Abe Degnan’s wish to no longer serve two masters.

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee adopted a motion Thursday that would create a study of whether the Department of Safety and Professional Services should be merged with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The proposal, which must be adopted by the Assembly and the Senate and signed by the governor to take effect, is meant to determine whether consolidation would improve the services offered by the agencies and result in a leaner operation, possibly through staff reductions.

Degnan, manager of Degnan Design Builders Inc., DeForest, said he welcomes the effort to make state government more efficient and the potential for eased regulations governing his business. He said remodeling work now is subject to both the uniform dwelling code, which is enforced by DSPS, and a consumer-protection law known as ATCP 110, which was adopted by the consumer protection agency.

ATCP 110, meant to protect homeowner’s from unfair home improvement practices, has proved difficult, Degnan said, especially some of its requirements related to the delivery of warranties. He said the rule is perhaps reasonable when a contractor is selling one type of product but turns onerous in remodeling work, when many sorts of materials are used.

He said he wants a merger of the two agencies to result in remodeling work subject only to the building codes.

“We would like to make sure efficiencies are found,” Degnan said, “and, at the same time, that the regulations don’t increase or get any worse in the process.”

Spokesmen for both DSPS and DATCP said it is too early to comment on how a possible merger might affect their agencies.

The motion calling for the study was put forward by state Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, a co-chairman of the Joint Finance Committee. A call to his office was not returned by deadline Friday afternoon.

His colleague on the committee, state Rep. Daniel LeMahieu, R-Cascade, said the purpose of the study is to prevent industries from being subject to regulations from two or more agencies. He noted that Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2013-15 budget would begin to move in the same direction, taking away from DSPS the responsibility for inspecting the quality of petroleum products and giving it to DATCP, which already makes sure that gas stations are not shorting customers on the amount of gasoline.

“We are trying to have the state be more user-friendly,” LeMahieu said.

The DSPS is itself the product of a merger. It came into existence in 2011, incorporating the former Department of Regulation and Licensing and the licensing functions of the former Department of Commerce.

John Mielke, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin, said he thinks the DSPS has performed well. Any friction he knows of concerning the agency, he said, has arisen when contractors have wondered how the building codes it enforces work with city or county building codes.

But that does not mean there isn’t room for improvement, Mielke said.

“I don’t think you can say about any state agency,” he said, “that it’s performing the best it could possibly do.”

The motion passed last week would put the state’s Department of Administration in charge of the study. A call to the DOA was not immediately returned Friday afternoon.

The motion would have a report on the study’s results submitted to the Joint Finance Committee and relevant standing committees of the Legislature by Jan. 1. If the merger were approved, a new agency named the Department of Agriculture, Regulation and Trade would begin operating July 1, 2015.

Degnan said he is eager to see what form the new department might take and how it will affect his business.

“We would be very excited in the realm of design/build/remodeling to be working under the same rules as new home construction,” he said. “Those two things are more similar to each other than some of the single-line replacement work that is out there.”

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