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Bill advancing to break logjam of plan reviews

Lawmakers are moving quickly to advance a bill meant to ease a backlog of requests for reviews commercial-construction plans before this year’s short legislative session runs out.

The bill, which began circulating on Tuesday, would increase the size of buildings that need approval from the Department of Safety and Professional Services and require builders to pay up-front before submitting plans.

Proponents hope the changes will alleviate a backlog of plan reviews that plagued much of the construction industry last summer and caused some GOP lawmakers to question Gov. Tony Ever’s appointment of Dawn Crim to lead the DSPS.

The lead author of the bill, state Sen. Roger Roth, R-Appleton, plans to formally introduce his legislation on Thursday. From there, it’s likely to get a public hearing before the Senate’s Committee on Economic Development, Commerce and Trade next week, according to a spokeswoman for Sen. Dan Feyen, R-Fond du Lac, chairman of the committee. Feyen is also a sponsor of the bill.

The Senate’s Committee on Economic Development, Commerce and Trade may hold a public hearing on a bill aimed to ease a backlog of commercial construction plan reviews. The committee meets at 10:30 a.m., Wednesday, in the Wisconsin State Capital’s room 330 Southwest.

John Schulze, director of legal and government affairs for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin, said lawmakers must act quickly to move the measure through the Legislature before the session runs out. It’s possible the state Assembly could meet just one more time in late February before calling it quits for the year.

Industry officials and lawmakers have been working for weeks to draft a proposal meant to ease the concerns of builders and architects who struggled with delays in plan approvals during last year’s busy building season.

Proponents hope the changes will help the industry avoid another slowdown this summer. A DSPS spokeswoman said on Friday that Crim believes the proposed bill could benefit from suggested improvements from building-code councils.

The proposal would generally raise the bar for submitting plans to the DSPS for review. It would:

  • Exempt buildings with no more than 25 plumbing fixtures from having to get approval from the DSPS;
  • Exempt commercial buildings with fewer than 200,000 cubic feet from review. But the standard wouldn’t apply to churches, schools and certain other “high-hazard” or educational buildings; and
  • Require contractors submitting plans to the department to pay half of their required review fees up-front, as nonrefundable deposits.

Separate from the changes proposed by the bill, the DSPS recently rolled out a number of internal policies also meant to curtail review delays.

The department will now require contractors to pay fees associated with plan submissions before those submissions will be considered complete. DSPS staff will also make sure that contractors are ready to discuss plans 48 hours before a meeting is scheduled to take place. If the department finds plans are incomplete, inspectors will toss them out and require builders to revise them and submit them anew.

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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