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Lawmakers to take up proposal on workforce housing, lead removal

The Woodlands apartment project stands behind an employee of SCS Builders, LLC, Fond du Lac, as he cuts plywood in 2015 in Menomonee Falls. A bill before state lawmakers on Tuesday that would set $10 million aside to support the construction of affordable housing in rural areas. (Photo by Kevin Harnack)

The Woodlands apartment project stands behind an employee of SCS Builders, LLC, Fond du Lac, as he cuts plywood in 2015 in Menomonee Falls. A bill before state lawmakers on Tuesday would set $10 million aside to support the construction of affordable housing in rural areas. (Photo by Kevin Harnack)

Both the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly plan to meet in floor sessions on Tuesday — one of only a handful of days the state Legislature is expected to be in session in 2020.

Several bills before the Senate and Assembly could lead to work for contractors. Among them are proposals to encourage the construction of affordable housing in Wisconsin, rid child-care centers of lead and let architects keep their professional credentials after retirement.

Here are four noteworthy bills scheduled for votes on Tuesday:

WORKFORCE HOUSING 

One proposal before the state Assembly would set aside $10 million to encourage the construction of affordable housing in rural areas.

So-called workforce housing is one source of construction demand that’s still struggling to recover from the recession more than a decade ago. The lack of these sorts of developments has caused frustration for employers in rural places and been blamed for the fact that rent prices have risen at a faster pace than wages in recent years.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 544, would direct the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority to establish a $10 million fund to support affordable housing projects in rural Wisconsin. The bill passed the Assembly’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate unanimously in early January.

The proposal comes on the heels of a pair of reports that, when presented to the Legislature this fall, called attention to the state’s slump in the construction of workforce housing. One report found that employment on subdivision projects has dropped by 61% since 2005, even as the state’s employment figures have generally recovered since the 2008 recession.

LEAD REDUCTION

The state Senate will separately take up legislation passed out of committee earlier this month to require child-care centers to rid themselves of water sources tainted with lead.

It’s part of a pair of bills called the SCHOOL Acts — an acronym standing for  Supporting Children’s Health Ousting Outdated Lead. The proposals would require school districts and private child-care centers to identify and remove lead pipes and similar infrastructure. The bills come after lawmakers have been grappling for months with how to deal with widespread lead contamination.

After earning bipartisan approval from a Senate Committee in early January, one of the proposals, Senate Bill 424, is scheduled to go before the full Senate. The bill would require child-care centers to test for lead and remove any contamination that’s discovered or be faced with losing their state-issued license to operate.

A companion bill, Senate Bill 423, would require school districts to test for lead in drinking water sources and remove it. The author, Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, delayed a vote on the bill in early January. The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy is scheduled to take up the proposal on Wednesday.

WATER FIXTURES IN PARKS 

The Senate will also take up a proposal that would set aside $5.2 million for work on water and plumbing fixtures in Wisconsin State Parks.

The legislation, Senate Bill 125, would use $5.2 million in borrowing to take on a backlog of infrastructure projects at Wisconsin State Parks.

The bill wouldn’t steer the money toward specific projects. But the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has certain uses in mind.

  • $3.3 million would be used to replace toilet and showers at Lake Wissota, Minor Lake, and Peninsula State Parks,
  • $1 million would go toward 13 vault-toilet replacements in high-traffic parks, including Black River State Forest and Devil’s Lake and Harrington Beach Parks,
  • $500,000 would be used to replace plumbing fixtures in parks throughout the state,
  • $250,000 would go toward replacing 50 water fountains in parks state-wide, and
  • $150,000 would be used to replace 5,100 feet of water lines at Yellowstone Lake State Park.

LICENSES FOR RETIREES

Yet another proposal before the Senate would let designers, architects and engineers keep their professional titles in their golden years, even if they’ve left the working world behind.

Senate Bill 156 would allow retirees to keep their credentials after they’ve stopped working. They’d also be exempt from keeping up with continuing-education requirements, as long as they were no longer practicing. The rule would apply to architects, landscape architects, professional engineers, designers or professional land surveyors.

In testimony on the bill, Michael Eberle, a principal at Madison’s Aro Eberle Architects, said one goal is to give retired architects some recognition for devoting their lives to the profession.

“Wisconsin registered Architects are currently forced to decide whether to forfeit their license, receive discipline for non-compliance with mandatory continuing education requirements, or request an extension and complete the continuing education,” he 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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