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State races toward electrician licensing emergency rule

By: Dan Shaw, [email protected]//May 13, 2014//

State races toward electrician licensing emergency rule

By: Dan Shaw, [email protected]//May 13, 2014//

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State officials are moving quickly to put forward a rule that would let electricians born before 1956 obtain state-issued licenses without having to take a written examination.

Until then, cities, villages and towns are on their own to find ways to determine if someone should be temporarily grandfathered under a state law requiring most electricians be licensed by April 1.

Hannah Zillmer, public information officer for the Department of Safety and Professional Services, said Tuesday that state officials plan at the end of May to begin promulgating an “emergency rule” laying out the steps an electrician born before 1956 and with 15 years of experience must go through to obtain a license without taking a test.

That rule would lay the foundation for a more permanent set of rules the DSPS plans to put before lawmakers in 2015, Zillmer said.

At a February committee hearing on the legislation that later became the electrician-licensing law, Bob Fahey, an electrical inspector for Janesville, expressed concerns that the need to verify age and experience would be too great of a burden for some cities. Fahey questioned whether local governments would have the manpower and time required to verify that someone meets the grandfathering provision.

On Tuesday, though, Fahey said he and his colleagues have yet to encounter an electrician who claims exemption from the licensing requirements. For that reason, he said, they have had no need in the little more than a month since the law took effect to devise a means of accurately determining a person’s age and experience.

Fahey said city officials most often check for licensing when a person requests a building permit. Complaints also can lead to checks at job sites, he said.

“But we live in a city of 50,000 to 60,000 people,” Fahey said. “We know most of the guys here. I look them up on the state website before I go make a stink about it.”

Harry Sulzer, Madison plan review and inspection unit supervisor, likewise said he and his staff members have yet to find themselves needing to determine if someone falls under the grandfathering provision. Sulzer said city officials have no plans to adopt a means of checking electricians’ age and experience.

“It’s irrelevant now,” he said. “When they get a rule in place, then we’ll take a look at it.”

For those who do feel compelled to adopt a stopgap system, the DSPS offers some guidance on its website. The department suggests local officials take some step to verify a birth date, likely by checking a driver’s license or some other type of government-issued identification, and accept an attestation as to the amount of experience a person has.

Zillmer said the department probably will institute a more formal means of gauging experience when it adopts its emergency rule. She said applicants for other types of certifications, for instance, are sometimes asked to get a current or former employer to provide a statement indicating the number of years spent in a particular trade.

Besides those born before 1956 and with at least 15 years of experience, the state’s new electrician-licensing offers exemptions to workers who are employed in existing factories, who volunteer for groups such as Habitat for Humanity or who perform work on low-voltage electrical signs. Most of the carve-outs were provided to protect jobs; the exemption for older electricians, for example, stemmed from a fear that many workers were too far removed from their school days to feel comfortable taking a written test and would simply drop out of the industry.

By and large, though, the new law requires electricians either to be registered as masters or journeymen to continue in the trade. Electricians who are not at the journeyman or master level must work under the direct supervision of a master or a journeyman. Zillmer said the DSPS is trying to make the transition as smooth as possible, which, in part, is the motive behind the proposed emergency rule for older electricians.

“We want to provide clarity and stability for both our license holders and municipalities,” she said. “The sooner we are able to provide that, the easier it will be for everyone involved.”


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