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Bill to compel state to weigh pros, cons of proposed occupational licenses

A recently introduced bill in the Legislature would prevent lawmakers from adopting new occupational licenses without state officials first having weighed the proposed credentials’ likely costs and benefits.

The proposal, introduced Friday as Assembly Bill 605 and Senate Bill 541, would require the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services to evaluate new occupational licenses before lawmakers vote on them. Specifically, the DSPS would have to consider both the “financial burden” that any proposed rules might impose on people and businesses and the ways in which other states regulate whatever job is up for licensing. After looking at various types of regulation, state officials would then have to pick whichever is “least restrictive,” according to the bill.

Some lawmakers have long been skeptical of the state’s occupational-licensing system. In 2017, various legislators required DSPS to conduct an audit to identify unnecessary occupational licenses.

Rep. Rob Hutton, a Republican from Brookfield and an author of the latest licensing proposal, said his main goal is to require state officials to consider whether new credentials are actually needed before adopting them.

“Many times we vote to create a new occupational license without understanding the full impact that license may have on the workforce and public safety,” Hutton said in a statement. “This legislation will ensure that we have a better picture of the effect an occupational license will have so we can make more informed policy decisions.”

If the bill were passed, it would require the DSPS to examine all new licensing proposals in five ways. Specifically, the agency would have to evaluate how the current absence of licensing might be harming the public and whether the public might actually benefit from regulation. The DSPS would also need to suggest the least-restrictive way to regulate a job, show how other states supervise the profession or occupation in question and gauge the likely financial toll of new regulations on people and businesses.

Although there’s been a bipartisan push in recent years to peel back the state’s occupational-licensing system, some industry groups have stood opposed to paring down the number of jobs the state regulates. More than 20 industry groups lined up against an unsuccessful 2017 bill that sought to set up a commission to root out unnecessary licenses.

The latest proposal, meanwhile, has drawn support from the business lobby Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and conservative groups Americans For Prosperity and the Milwaukee-based Badger Institute. The Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, meanwhile, has registered itself in opposition to the proposal, according to Wisconsin Ethics Commission.

A DSPS report from December examining the state’s occupational-license system recommended eliminating or consolidating 28 of the 280 professional licenses the state regulates. Most of the credentials under review were found by the DSPS to be unnecessary. Among them were credentials for dance and music therapists or cigarette salespeople, none of which has to do the construction industry. The agency, however, recommended consolidating the state’s seven-tier license system for blasting and suggested eliminating a credential for engineering-systems designers.

Jeff Beiriger, executive director of the Plumbing, Heating and Cooling Contractors Association of Wisconsin, said it’s not common for state lawmakers to propose new occupational licenses these days. He said the new proposal would merely require something that lawmakers should be doing anyway: gathering information about new bills before they act.

“It’s not a roadblock if the report is done in a way that provides informational for the legislature to make its decision,” Beiriger said.

About Nate Beck, nbeck@dailyreporter.com

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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