Wisconsin Legislator Saves World

A Wisconsin State Journal editorial | Posted: Monday, November 2, 2009 10:20 am |

  	 		Sometimes it takes 10 years to fix a problem caused by the unintended consequences of a state law.

 		Our view: better late than never.

 		State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, deserves credit for stepping up now to fix a problem created by one of his legislative efforts in 1999. Ten years ago Erpenbach and others were concerned about an increasing flood of junk mail to Wisconsin residents, with the flow of unwanted mail often enabled by direct marketers gaining access to huge lists of names through databases in the DNR, DOT and Department of Regulation and Licensing.

 		So in 1999 Erpenbach authored a bill that allowed people who were licensed by the state through those departments to "opt out" and keep their name and information off any group lists.

 		Fair enough for someone who paid for a hunting, fishing or driver's license. But the Department of Regulation and Licensing is another matter. That's where occupational and professional licenses are issued, and it's fair and reasonable to hold those licensees to a higher level of public scrutiny.

 		With this legislative fix those receiving professional licenses through the DRL won't be able to completely "opt out" of a list. They could still keep certain personal information private - such as a Social Security number and telephone number - but the basics of name and city of residence will now be available to the public.

 		Why is this important? First and foremost, because Wisconsin citizens need to know who the state is licensing in the many dozens of occupations covered by the DRL. And for newspapers that take their "public watchdog" role seriously, access to group lists of licensees provides a means to cross-check criminal backgrounds against the granting of licenses.

 		A recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigative project first brought to light this unintended consequence of the opt out provision.
 		**Would you want to know if a local real estate appraiser or a home inspector has a criminal record?** And what about the dozens of health professionals licensed by the state? Without this amendment to the 1999 legislation, the ability to cross-check license holders against criminal databases is extremely limited.

 		Bravo to Erpenbach for recognizing the flaw in the 1999 legislation and for stepping up to correct the problem.