WRA Legislative Agenda Moving On All Fronts

 Mike Theo  |    February 27, 2004

As the legislative session races to a scheduled mid-March adjournment, key REALTOR® issues are receiving lots of attention in the capitol these days. While WRA priorities must compete with hundreds of other issues for consideration, many appear headed for enactment before legislators leave Madison to run for re-election in the fall.

Regardless of how many WRA-supported bills become law, the fact that so many bills are receiving serious consideration is a positive development compared to the past several sessions. In previous sessions when the two houses of the Legislature were controlled by different parties, many REALTOR®-backed bills passed the State Assembly only to stall in the State Senate. This session is markedly different as WRA lobbyists are working closely with the Republican-controlled legislature and the Democratic governor.

As we enter the final weeks of session, all REALTORS® are encouraged to watch for possible Calls To Action (by mail, phone or e-mail) that will provide instructions on contacting your legislators regarding important pending issues. In preparation for this, here’s a quick scorecard on the status of our legislative agenda. As always, please feel free to contact us with any questions or comments you might have. And thank you, in advance, for your willingness to help!

Legislation passed

Regulatory reforms: Known as the “Jobs Creation Act,” this bipartisan legislation which has been signed into law by Gov. Doyle provides for streamlined air and water permitting without weakening environmental regulations. (AB 655/AB 313)

Tax Incremental Financing Districts (TIFs): Legislation to expand the use of TIFs, including restoring residential housing TIFs has been signed into law. TIFs are perhaps the best economic development tools available to local governments. (SB 305) (see feature story on pg. 23)

Municipal fees: This legislation codifies existing case law by limiting fees charged by local units of government to an amount equal to covering the cost of providing that service to the public and no more. The bill has passed and is on the governor’s desk. (AB 728)

Trans 233: The Legislature has suspended key elements of this Dept. of Transportation rule governing development and use of private property along highway right of ways. The WRA has been seeking changes to this rule for years. It is hopeful that this action will lead to revised rules that respect private property rights while insuring highway safety.

Health insurance cooperatives: This legislation creates five regional health insurance cooperatives that allow individuals, potentially including independent contractors like REALTORS®, to purchase affordable health insurance. The law is now in effect and meetings to define participants are underway.

Legislation moving

Constitutional spending limits: This legislation will impose spending limits on state and local governments to better reflect the taxpayers’ ability to pay. This legislation must pass two legislative sessions, then be approved by voters in a statewide referendum in 2006. While there appears to be widespread legislative and public support for this concept, the exact language for this legislation is far from settled. The WRA is seeking to ensure that spending limits do not inhibit community growth or economic and job development. (AJR 55)

License reciprocity: Legislation authorizing the state to create reciprocal real estate licensing agreements with other states to allow Wisconsin licensees to practice in other states and vise versa. This legislation has passed both houses of the Legislature but will likely be vetoed by the governor based on a procedural issue with Assembly Democrats. A separate Senate bill with no such procedural disagreement will likely pass and signed by the governor. (AB 733/SB 369)

Electronic commerce: Legislation adopting the Uniform Electronic Transaction Act (UETA) has passed the Assembly and is now pending in the Senate. This legislation will facilitate expanded electronic real estate transactions in Wisconsin. This legislation will receive bipartisan support and is supported by the governor. (AB 755/SB 404)

Smart growth: This legislation refines the existing law to clarify the consistency requirements between local comprehensive land-use plans and state guidelines. The changes should help many smaller communities comply with state land-use planning goals that promote, among other things, housing and economic development needs. The bill has passed the Assembly and is awaiting final Senate action. (AB 608)

Condominium law: The first major rewrite of laws governing the sales and operations of condominium laws in decades, this legislation was created by a special committee last session but was introduced too late for consideration. The bill will receive a public hearing in late February but it is uncertain that enough time remains in the session to pass both Houses. (AB 254)

Legislation potentially moving

Campaign Finance Reform: Legislation to regulate issue ads and provide additional public financing to candidates for state office, consistent with new federal laws and the new U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The WRA supports reforms but only those that protect the constitutional rights of REALTORS® to remain politically active and involved. (SB 12)

Tax exemption for nonprofit housing: This legislation will restore tax exemptions for low-income housing provided by nonprofit organizations. This exemption was jeopardized in a recent state Supreme Court decision. While the WRA supports non-profits tax exemptions for such housing, the Court decision has raised legitimate issues regarding competition between nonprofit and for-profit housing for low-income families which should be addressed in future legislation.

Mold inspectors: Legislation to create a voluntary state certification for mold inspectors. The regulations will be difficult to construct given the lack of scientific specificity on identifying dangerous mold on a case-by-case basis. However, the need to provide consumer protection against unqualified inspectors requires state action. (AB 660)

School financing: The persistent macro-issue on school financing is heating up again as the governor’s task force on K-12 funding is finalizing proposals for Gov. Doyle’s consideration. The WRA is actively participating in these discussions with the goal of lowering property taxes while providing the funding necessary to create world-class neighborhood schools in Wisconsin.

While this list of issues is immediate, it is not exhaustive. There are over 100 separate pieces of legislation currently being monitored and lobbied by the WRA. For more information on these and other issues, see the WRA website (Public Affairs; Bills Tracker), and/or contact Michael Theo mtheo@wra.org, Joe Murray jmurray@wra.org or Tom Larson tlarson@wra.org.

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