Wisconsin licensing boards are routinely in violation of law requiring public representation
Forty-four years ago, Wisconsin legislators passed a law mandating that “public members” be appointed to many of the licensure boards dominated by industry participants. The fear at the time was that board members who work in the same professions they regulate are often more inclined to protect themselves from competition than to protect their fellow citizens from health or safety concerns.
Today, at least 27 professional licensure boards or councils are in outright violation of those laws. Eleven of those rule-making or licensure boards have no public representation at all; and at least 25 other advisory councils with similar functions are also totally bereft of any public members.
A review of meeting minutes by the Badger Institute, moreover, revealed that even the relatively few public members who have been appointed to these powerful boards and councils fail to show up regularly for meetings further violating the spirit of the 1975 law intended to impose checks and balances on other board members who compete in the industries and professions they oversee.
The implications are troubling. The purview of these boards spans from deciding who can receive a license or certification to determining ongoing education requirements to handing down disciplinary actions. Decisions by board members affect over a million members of Wisconsin’s workforce and nearly every consumer in the state. Actions to curtail competition harm individuals trying to start businesses and careers as well as Wisconsin’s economy.
The laws requiring participation of public members should be adhered to or abolished. Abolishment in essence, giving up any hope of assuring the public has a voice on these boards would necessitate an entirely new method of regulation.
But such a system could increase competition and eliminate onerous, counterproductive regulations.
Our examination into Wisconsin licensing boards and councils and how they operate reveals a broken system where interest groups and those in power dominate licensing decisions at all levels of the process. Under the banner of public safety, once a licensing board or council is created, it essentially has the power to control that particular industry indefinitely.
Based on our findings, legislators should consider several policy changes to reform the current system of occupational licensing and reduce the barriers that it poses:
- Boards and councils should be required to be more transparent in their actions and decision-making.
- If the current structure cannot uphold the 1975 “public member law” or it is deemed ineffective, lawmakers should reform the entire licensing system through a sunset review process. Many states have recently passed similar legislation that requires systematic reviews of licensing boards and councils to evaluate whether the current license protects public safety and, if not, whether a less restrictive form of regulation is appropriate. A few examples:
- In Ohio, all licensing boards expire every six years unless the legislature actively decides to renew them. Before a board is set to expire, it must petition a legislative committee that there is a “public need for its continued existence.” During that review process, legislators determine whether there is a less-restrictive form of regulation than the license.
- Nebraska enacted a similar law that requires a legislative review of one-fifth of all licensing regulations every year. Lawmakers must first determine whether there are “present, significant, and substantiated harms” that justify the current license; and then determine whether a less-restrictive form of regulation is justified.
- Sunset review laws have also been passed in other states, including Vermont, Arizona and Louisiana. Alternative forms of regulation to licensing that they allow include inspections, mandatory bonding or insurance, registration or certification.
It’s worth noting that in 2017, the Wisconsin Legislature required the Department of Safety and Professional Services to review all licenses in the state and propose ones to be eliminated. In response, DSPS recommended eliminating 28 licenses, permits or certificates including community currency exchanger, solid waste incinerator operator, music, art and dance therapists and interior designers. Since then, none of these have been eliminated.