Wisconsin Republicans order audit of occupational licensing backlog

The Department of Safety and Professional Services oversees licensing for hundreds of occupations, and the Republican-controlled Legislature's Joint Audit Committee asked state auditors to look into delays.

Associated Press

February 7, 2023

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Robert Wittke stands behind a wood podium and speaks into multiple microphones while Eric Wimberger stands behind and to the site, with U.S. and Wisconsin flags and a fireplace with carved stone mantel in the background.

The Republican co-chairs of the Wisconsin Legislature's Joint Audit Committee — Sen. Eric Wimberger, left, and Rep. Robert Wittke, right — take questions on plans to audit a state agency causing lengthy delays for professional licenses during a press conference on Feb. 7, 2023, at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. (Credit: AP Photo / Harm Venhuizen)

AP News

By Harm Verhuizen, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican lawmakers ordered an audit of a Wisconsin agency that has taken weeks to issue professional licenses, causing lengthy delays for thousands of workers across the state.

The Department of Safety and Professional Services oversees licensing for hundreds of occupations including doctors, nurses, construction and trade workers, accountants and tattoo artists. It reported an average wait time of 45 days for professional licenses in August 2022, down from nearly 80 days in 2021.

In a vote that fell along party lines, the Republican-controlled Legislature’s Joint Audit Committee instructed state auditors on Feb. 7 to get to the bottom of what has been causing the delays.

“We have way too many people waiting way too long for licenses,” Rep. Robert Wittke, committee co-chair, said at a news conference. “We need to understand what the issues are and get this resolved.”

Republicans made license delays a campaign issue during Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ reelection bid in 2022, accusing him of hamstringing Wisconsin’s workforce. But the department has blamed the backlog on inadequate staffing.

Republican lawmakers have rejected Evers’ requests to fund staff positions to address delays.

Ahead of the meeting on Feb. 7, Democrats sent a letter to the committee’s Republican co-chairs saying the audit would only further burden the staff responsible for issuing licenses.

Wittke dismissed their concerns as ignoring a serious problem and said the audit would not strain licensing staff.

The department is funded almost entirely by fees it collects from licensing and inspections, but it is unable to use its budget surplus of more than $47 million to hire more staff without the Legislature’s approval.

In a budget request published in December, the department asked for 70 new full-time positions. Gov. Tony Evers will release his budget on Feb. 15, which the Republican-controlled Legislature will then rewrite over the coming months. It is unlikely the audit will be completed before the budget is finalized.

Harm Venhuizen is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Venhuizen on Twitter.

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