2007 Senate Bill 167 – a bill with bipartisan support – passed the legislature establishing a state electrical code and state electricians license. Prior to the act, local governments had created a patchwork of requirements for electricians and electrical contractors – this state law ensured that safety, training, and credentialing, as well as the electrical code itself, were consistent across the state. Currently there are over 12,300 licensed electricians and approximately 1400 electrician apprentices in Wisconsin.
The original Act specified a 2012 sunrise on the licensing provisions. This was delayed by the republican majority for two years and finally became effective in April of 2014. Rep. Glen Grothman at the time led the charge for several exemptions to the license requirement, mainly at the behest of WMC. The changes to the original law included exempting certain employee electricians at certain facilities, certain types of work, and also a grandfather provision for electricians over 60 years of age. These changes were adopted and, thankfully, the license and importantly the exam requirements went online in April 2014.
Recent Challenges to Electrician Licensing
Despite the push for exemptions and the delayed sunrise, licensing has continued forward. As have regular updates to the electrical code. Most recently, DSPS adopted the national electrical code with more omissions than usual at the behest of some commercial trade groups including the Wisconsin Builders Association. Licensing however was unaffected until release of the Governor’s 2017-19 proposed budget where Walker proposed eliminating the exam requirement for journeyman licensure as well as creating an Occupational License Review Board which would review all licenses issued by the state and ultimately push for elimination of those chosen as not necessary for public safety and health.
Exam Requirement Elimination. The 2017-19 executive budget proposed eliminating license requirements for journeyman electricians, plumbers, and automatic fire sprinkler fitters. This provision was supported by some republican legislators, as well as some conservative national groups.
IBEW spearheaded opposition to this provision making clear that eliminating the exam requirement devalued the credential and made licensing functionally useless if those who could not pass the test could still qualify for a license.
IBEW activated its own membership via grassroots outreach and utilized its lobbyists in Madison to lobby legislators directly and create a coalition of stakeholders on both the employee and employer sides to fight against elimination of the exam requirement. By the time coalition building was over, IBEW, NECA, the Wisconsin Builders Association, the Mechanical Contractors Assoc. of Wisconsin, the Plumbing Heating and Cooling Association, the Plumbers, the Pipe Trades, the Wisconsin Onsite Water Recycling Assoc. and even the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) were all working together against eliminating the journeyman exam requirement. The outreach was successful and this provision was removed from the budget by the Joint Finance Committee.
Occupational License Review Board. This provision in the governor’s executive budget was identified by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau as non-fiscal policy. The Joint Finance Committee eliminated it from the budget as such. However it has been introduced as stand alone legislation and we will continue to fight to prove the necessity of electrician licensing. The success on defeating the elimination of the exam requirement is a good first step. However, the coalition built must remain engaged and grassroots advocacy from the IBEW, other impacted Trades, and contractor groups is absolutely necessary going forward.
WI Electrical Administrative Code SPS 316 Update. As most of you already know the State of WI adopts the National Electrical Code through our own State of WI Administrative Electrical Code SPS 316. The State of WI SPS 316 Advisory Committee met monthly through part of 2015 and most of 2016. Throughout this process the SPS 316 Advisory Committee members created a draft of SPS 316 that was thought to be a very reasonable compromise. The document was then reviewed by the office of DSPS Secretary David Ross. This lead to DSPS tossing aside the majority of the changes the Advisory Committee made, rewriting the draft, and removing most of the new AFCI, and GFCI requirements of the 2017 NEC. There were three public hearings on the SPS 316 draft created by Secretary Ross’s office, which resulted in overwhelming opposition from the electrical community, as well as, the firefighting community. Since the public hearings, there has been a leadership change at DSPS. Laura Gutierrez is now the secretary of DSPS, as Secretary David Ross has been appointed by Gov. Walker as the WI Department of Transportation Secretary. At this time the draft modified by Secretary Ross’s office has been on the back burner waiting to go in front of the legislature. The stall is most likely because of the opposition at the public hearings and the leadership changes at DSPS. The latest update from DSPS, Electrical Section, is they have had internal meetings with plans of the new SPS 316 Administrative Electrical Code package hitting the legislature floor in the Fall 2017 session.
INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS LOCAL UNION 494