New Year Brings New Focus at Capitol

Legislature Will Shift Focus from Policy to Politic

 Mike Theo  |    January 10, 2006

2006 will be a landmark legislative and political year for us and for Wisconsin. Viewing the New Year from 40,000 feet, 2006 will feature the biannual capitol transformation from policy focus to political focus.

The legislative session that began in January 2005 is racing to a May 2006 finish, with over 1,300 bills introduced so far (about 860 bills in the Assembly and 470 bills in the Senate). And the list is growing each day. But as the legislative session ends, the campaign-related politicking is just ramping up.

2005 was an extremely active year legislatively and was highlighted by the nearly unanimous bipartisan approval of the American Dream Consumer Act. This legislation to modernize Wisconsin’s real estate agency laws was the WRA’s top legislative priority for this session. The bill is now on Governor Doyle’s desk where he is expected to sign it into law soon.

So what issues are we currently working on? The WRA website maintains an accurate tracking of all the bills that either directly or indirectly impact the real estate industry that have been introduced so far this session. If you visit the site ( you will see the significant breadth of issues the association is either monitoring or actively lobbying at this time.

With a little over four months remaining in the session, here’s a quick look at some of the remaining major issues we expect to be working on:

Tax issues

TABOR — Constitutional limits on spending and/or taxes

  • Support legislation to amend the constitution to create reasonable spending and/or taxing limitations on state and/or local units of government to better align spending and taxing with the taxpayers’ ability to pay.
  • Status: While legislative leaders in both Houses have pledged to bring this issue to the floor before the session adjourns in the spring of 2006, no specific proposals have been introduced.

Transactional issues

Health insurance reforms for independent contractors

  • Consider legislation by Reps. Gielow and Richards called The Wisconsin Health Plan. The legislation proposes the creation of a health insurance purchasing corporation that provides all state residents under 65 years old with a private health insurance purchasing account funded by an assessment on most employers. All participants, including independent contractors, would have an annual choice of health care plans and providers.
  • Status: Substantial opposition from many business organizations makes action this session unlikely.

Right to cure

  • Consider builder-sponsored legislation that would provide for a notice of an opportunity to repair between builders and homeowners. The goal is to avoid lawsuits by creating a system by which homeowners notify builders about defects or problems to which builders must respond within specified time frames.
  • Status: SB 448 (Sen. Olsen) as introduced November 22, 2005. Assembly companion not yet introduced. The Wisconsin REALTORS® Association (WRA) and the Wisconsin Builders Association (WBA) are negotiating changes to the bill to provide additional consumer protections.

Land use and environmental issues

Pier regulations

  • Support requiring (by statute) that any proposed administrative rules restricting the construction or use of piers cannot apply retroactively to existing piers (i.e., grandfather existing piers).
  • Status: AB 850 (Reps. Gunderson and Gard) was introduced November 29, 2005 with a public hearing held December 1. Amendments are expected to reflect the Department of Natural Resource’s (DNR) latest proposed changes to administrative rules. The WRA supports this legislation in addition to the proposed rule revisions.

Ordinary high water mark

  • Support statutory definition of Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM) determination. Limit the DNR’s authority to redetermine the OHWM if such redetermination converts private property to public property.
  • Status: AB 71 (Rep. Meyer) had a public hearing on October 26, 2005. A committee vote is pending.

Shoreland zoning

  • Support elimination of the current statutory provision that requires newly annexed land to continue to be regulated by the county shoreland zoning regulations rather than city/village regulations.
  • Status: AB 299. Passed Assembly on voice vote June 16, 2005. Passed Senate committee 3-2 on December 2, 2005. Available for scheduling to the full Senate.

Nonconforming structures

  • Support prohibiting state agencies and local units of government from adopting regulations that require legal, nonconforming structures (that are nonconforming due to a change in setback requirements or OHWM) to eventually be brought back into compliance.
  • Status: SB 253 (Sen. Stepp) passed Senate committee 6-1 on September 9, 2005. Passed full Senate by voice vote September 27. In Assembly committee.

Annexations (Legislative Council study committee)

  • Support recommendations from the Legislative Council study committee to adequately protect the ability of property owners to choose which local unit of government provides them with services in annexations.
  • Status: AB 460 and 461 (Leg. Council) introduced November 30, 2005.

Reliance on permits

  • Support legislation that will allow property owners to reasonably rely upon the permits received by government entities (equitable estoppel).
  • Status: AB 597 (Rep. Albers) passed committee 4-2 on September 2, 2005 and passed Assembly floor vote 60-35 on December 6. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Administrative rules

Pier rules

  • Require that any proposed administrative rules restricting the construction or use of piers cannot apply retroactively to existing piers (i.e., grandfather existing piers).
  • Status: The DNR withdrew their rules in response to substantial public (and WRA) opposition and introduced substantially revised (and improved) rules on Dec. 1. The revisions address most of the WRA’s concerns. The Legislature will now review the rules.

Large scale farm siting

  • Siting of large scale farming operations: ensure that administrative rules relating to the siting of large-scale farming operations provide neighboring property owners with adequate notice any time a large-scale farming operation will be located nearby.
  • Status: The Legislature will send the proposed rules back to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) for changes. These recommendations will likely contain a neighbor notice provision.

Shoreland zoning

  • Ensure that revisions to the state’s shoreland zoning regulations (NR 115) adequately protect the rights of property owners, while at the same time protecting our state’s water resources.
  • Status: DNR working on revising rules and will likely not reintroduce them until late 2006.

Working lands initiative

  • New DATCP working group tasked with developing administrative rules for statewide land use regulations to protect farmland.
  • Status: Work continues, but early indications are that recommendations regarding statewide purchase and transfer of development rights programs may be advanced.

For more information, visit the WRA website or contact: Michael Theo ( or Tom Larson (

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