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Senator Moulton’s column: State agencies

by Senator Terry Moulton

The State of Wisconsin has twenty state agencies that are responsible for many of the services and regulations you come into contact with on a daily basis. You may have applied for a hunting or fishing license with the Department of Natural Resources; applied for a driver’s license through the Department of Transportation; and filed your taxes with Department of Revenue. But how do these agencies operate? Which agency do you contact with your questions? How are the Secretaries of each agency selected and what do they do? Navigating the regulatory mess at the state level may seem overwhelming at first, but this week I’m hoping to make the process a little bit easier for everyone.

Each state agency has a Secretary, who is the chief administrator responsible for the actions of the agency. The agency’s goals, operations and regulations are determined by the Secretary. Because each Secretary plays such an important role in government rulemaking and regulation, the process for selecting a Secretary has multiple steps. First, the governor appoints a person who he believes is qualified. Then, each Senate committee holds a public hearing on the appointed Secretaries who operate within their committee’s scope of interest. For example, the Committee on Agriculture, Small Business, and Tourism, which I chair, held a public hearing about Secretary Ben Brancel of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and Secretary Stephanie Klett of the Department of Tourism earlier this week. If the committee votes in favor of the appointment, then the appointment is sent to the full Senate for a vote. If the Secretary’s appointment passes the full Senate, he or she is officially named Secretary.

When the state budget is being planned, each agency submits its budget requests for current and future programs. When legislation, including the budget, is passed that relates to the agency’s work, it is frequently up to the agency to write rules and regulations governing exactly how the statute will be implemented.  Once written, the agency sends its rules to the appropriate committee, and as long as the committee has no concerns or changes to make, the rules take effect 30 days after presentation to the committee. These rules and regulations frequently affect your everyday life – the maximum number of fish you can keep on your next fishing trip, your doctor’s requirement to inform you of alternative treatment options, and the requirement for many professionals to seek continuing education are all mandated by these rules.

So how do you contact these agencies when you have an issue? You can visit Wisconsin’s state government website, where a list of agencies and a brief description of their responsibilities is listed, as well as contact information. This list is available at: http://www.wisconsin.gov/Pages/allagencies.aspx. If you aren’t able to find what you need on the website, you can certainly call or email me and I would be happy to answer your questions and forward your concern to the appropriate agency.

Earlier this year, Governor Walker proposed consolidating some of the state agencies. The proposed reorganization would combine the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation with the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority and combine the Department of Financial Institutions with the Department of Safety and Professional Services. We will learn more details of the proposed mergers in Governor Walker’s budget address on February 3rd, but the goal of the mergers is to make the agencies more efficient and focused in their goals.

I hope that I’ve helped you learn a little bit more about how state agencies work and how to get their help. As always, if you have questions or comments about any state-related issues, or if you need help with a state agency, you can contact me at Sen.Moulton@legis.wisconsin.gov or (888) 437-9436.