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Overhaul of codes faces resistance

By Dan Shaw

Not even a year into a revision of state rules governing everything from erosion control to barbering, a Republican lawmaker said he is running into opposition from his own party.

In January, state Rep. Daniel LeMahieu, R-Cascade, joined other GOP lawmakers to announce their “right the rules” plan to review each of the 1,768 chapters of the Wisconsin Administrative Code and to propose changes to eliminate bureaucratic hurdles and better accommodate businesses.

To make the task easier, LeMahieu said Thursday, he has divided the chapters up and assigned them to the Legislature’s 35 committees according to subject. Since then, some of the committee chairmen have started reviewing the rules. Others, though, are refusing to cooperate, he said.

LeMahieu, who was speaking at an event at the Madison Club by the economic development group Dane County Council of Public Affairs, declined to name who among his fellow lawmakers is not going along. But, he said, the resistance has been strong in some quarters.

For instance, LeMahieu said, a staff worker for one lawmaker told him, “Don’t show up. Don’t call me on this subject anymore. We are not going to discuss it with you,” LeMahieu said.

One motive behind the refusals, he said, undoubtedly is a reluctance to wade into the daunting task of revising the Wisconsin Administrative Code, which consists of 11,764 pages of rules, many of them written by agency employees with little contribution from lawmakers.

“It’s the last thing they want because, now, it’s on their shoulders,” LeMahieu said. “And it’s a lot of work.”

He also speculated that some of his colleagues enjoyed being able to blame nonelected bureaucrats for the creation of rules that voters might not like.

“There’s legislators,” LeMahieu said, “who don’t always want to do their work, the work that’s involved with being a good legislator.”

Despite the obstacles, work is underway to revise Wisconsin’s administrative rules. Matt Maroney, deputy secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources, said state officials have identified 40 rules for proposed elimination this session. Among them are rules governing when the DNR must make decisions on water regulation and concerning grants used to control pollution coming from a specifically identifiable point.

Maroney said state officials are considering modifying or clarifying parts or all of another 50 rules. Amid the pruning, he said, the priority will be to ensure the public can understand the rules that remain.

To that end, he said, the DNR has taken to publishing its rules online.

“What this whole process got me to thinking,” he said, “is that we should not be burying our guides and materials. We should have a very transparent process.”

Maroney said state officials also are aiming for consistency in the interpretation of rules. When he joined the DNR in 2010, he said, the agency functioned as though it were six separate entities. There was the Madison headquarters, he said, and then five regional offices that “operated differently and had five different interpretations on issues.”

LeMahieu said the progress has been heartening and has helped distract his attention from the obstacles put up to the right the rules plan. But, he said, there is little he can do to get other lawmakers to stick to the plan.

But that’s not true of those who must live under the rules.

“If there’s rules you don’t like, talk to the committee chairmen,” he said. “That’s the only way this is going to be successful.”

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