Target 2 Investigates: State studies deregulating occupational licenses

MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - Updated with a statement from a Dept. of Safety and Professional Services spokesman Friday.

Wisconsin occupational license (WBAY photo)

With just a month left before Wisconsin swears in a new governor, Scott Walker has the chance to weigh in on a plan causing concern across hundreds of industries in the state.

"I thought, well, I'm a nurse. Why would you ever think to not license me?" Kathie DeMuth said.

But that's exactly what the state is considering, looking at deregulating hundreds of industries, no longer requiring a license to practice everything from medicine to wiring a home.

The state has a December 31 deadline for submitting a plan to the governor to determine whether people who hold an occupational license actually need one.

Those licenses are for services we use every day: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, plumbers, inspectors, accountants. Those are among 240 different professions currently required to be licensed by the state's Department of Safety and Professional Services.

Wisconsin is now considering becoming one of the first in the nation to deregulate all those services.

Industries from medicine to cosmetology to contractors are worried a study looking at eliminating a license for those jobs will pose public safety and health risks. They contacted Target 2 for answers.

It's happening quickly and rather quietly. If you're one of the people who holds an occupational license with the state, you should have received an email recently asking you to fill out a short survey asking about your job, the cost of schooling, and the value of your license.

But as we started asking people about this, many had no idea what we were talking about, making them concerned a decision will be made quickly without much input.

Master electrician Kevin Weigman teaches the next generation of electricians enrolled in the electrical construction apprenticeship program at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

"We want to make sure things are done right the first time," Weigman said.

A Green Bay city inspector recently gave a mangled mess of wiring to Weigman after finding it in the walls of a new home.

"This was behind the wall, done by an unlicensed individual," Weigman told us. "This is a fire waiting to happen."

"The initiative here to eliminate licensure, here's what you can get," he said, holding the mass of wires, "and it's, in my opinion, not a very good idea."

Weigman is baffled the state is considering deregulating his industry, no longer requiring electricians to hold a license -- something he says guarantees electricians both know what they're doing and maintain safety.

"I think you talk to any electrical professional who's been in the trade -- I've been in the trade 41 years -- we all say this is ridiculous. Doesn't make any sense. Why? We're having a hard time understanding the exact why this would come about," Weigman said.

Why? Target 2 discovered this is actually state law, proposed in 2017 by Gov. Scott Walker and slightly adjusted by the Republican-controlled Legislature as part of the last state budget.

It orders the Department of Safety and Professional Services to submit a report to the governor and Legislature by the end of the year to determine whether occupational licensing for the nearly 250 professions is necessary.

DSPS tells Target 2 it's looking at regulations in other states but will ensure it "maintains licenses necessary to protect health and public safety."

Target 2 obtained an email to a license holder listing more factors, including the possible "financial burdens" or other "barriers" preventing people from receiving a license.

In a statement sent to Target 2 on Friday, after this report first aired, a DSPS spokesman wrote:

"The purpose of the occupational licensure study is to offer recommendations to the legislature based on the terms laid out in the survey. This does not mean that the DSPS will be recommending the legislature deregulate all professions currently under the jurisdiction of our department.

"Additionally, the DSPS cannot unilaterally decide to remove licensure for any occupation. Any changes to state law will need to be considered by the legislature and would go through due process, which includes public input."

To get input, the agency created an online survey -- open just 14 days, from November 27 to December 10.

DeMuth just took the survey.

"To not have that license that's going to ensure that you're competent and providing safe care is going to jeopardize people's lives," she said.

As a Bellin College assistant professor and a registered nurse, DeMuth can't understand why health care wouldn't be regulated.

"Without that license to ensure that education component is allowing that person to practice is extremely concerning," DeMuth said.

That worry has only increased after an Appleton man was charged Wednesday for claiming he was a doctor but had no medical license to treat patients or prescribe medication in the ways prosecutors say he did (see related story).

"The medications... always receiving medications in practice today. New procedures... how are they going to sure that is somebody who's competent to be able to practice health care?" DeMuth asked.

"That's my main thing, this is for safety for everybody," Georgi Halverson said.

Halverson, owner of Elite Nail School in Madison, first contacted Target 2, worried health concerns in the cosmetology industry are being overlooked.

"We work with tons of chemicals. From the service provider to the client there are issues. And there can be major injury on both sides."

Halverson spent the last several days calling lawmakers and both the current and incoming governor.

Target 2 contacted them, too, but hasn't received a response yet.

"I have to believe that DSPS in doing this study is going to come back, and there are professions out there and say, yes, there are professions out there that need to have licensure," Steve Grenier said.

A licensed professional engineer, Green Bay Public Works Director Grenier hopes this gets no further than talk, arguing the ramifications are simply too severe.

Target 2 asked students about the cost burden and eliminating licensing.

"I'm totally against it," student Andrei Oleinic said.

We found no one in support, all telling us you can't put a dollar value on that piece of paper.

So what now?

Anyone can take the survey until Monday, Dec. 10 (click here).

Again, DSPS has until December 31 to submit a plan to the governor and legislature. We've requested that information as soon as it's completed.

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