The state Assembly was moving Tuesday toward passing legislation that would impose residency requirements on bidders from a neighboring state if that state itself had its own residency requirements.
The proposal, contained in Assembly 493, was one of more than a hundred bills the Assembly took up on Tuesday. Even if passed later that day, the proposal would still need the Senate’s separate approval and Gov. Scott Walker’s signature to become law.
State Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, has said the bill is meant to fight other states’ protectionist measures. To that end, it would make sure out-of-state contractors receive the same treatment in Wisconsin that Wisconsin contractors now do in some cases when they cross state lines to bid on projects.
“We just want our workers treated fairly,” said Kitchens on Tuesday. “I’m not in favor of protectionism by any means. I think our workers can compete fairly with anyone, but Michigan in particular is not treating our businesses fairly. Honestly, my goal is to get them to quit discriminating against our workers. That’s my goal, and I just don’t see any other way to do that.”
Various states that border Wisconsin, including Michigan and Illinois, have residency requirements that can give native contractors a leg up when bidding on state projects. In Michigan, for instance, statues require that Michigan residents make up 50 percent or more of the workforce on public projects.
In Illinois, meanwhile, officials must ensure that residents make up at least 90 percent of the workforce on any project that receives state money. Even so, the requirement kicks in only when the state’s unemployment rate has been above five percent for more than two months. What’s more, Illinois officials have avoided enforcing the rule in large part because of concerns that it might conflict with the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.
Despite its apparent advantages to in-state construction companies, Assembly Bill 493 does not enjoy strong support in the industry. The Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association have both registered against it.
Kitchens said the groups are opposed to the bill because they dislike protectionism, not because they disagree with his goal of making sure Wisconsin businesses are treated fairly. He said he expects the bill to be approved in the Senate before the current legislative session ends.
Once the proposal passes in the Assembly, it would be under consideration for placement on the Senate’s March 15 calendar, said Myranda Tanck, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau.Follow @erikastrebel