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  • Inside Track
    July 27, 2010

    Investigating Wisconsin administrative rules

    Bev ButulaBy Bev Butula, manager of library services, Davis & Kuelthau

    Aug. 4, 2010 – Many issues we research center around the rules established by administrative agencies. It is often beneficial to gather background information, reports, and analysis similar to a legislative history when investigating a specific rule. This article highlights a few websites to assist in collecting relevant information on recent and pending Wisconsin administrative rules. It will not, however, be a comprehensive discussion of how to conduct rule histories.

    Wisconsin administrative rulemaking

    Wisconsin agencies follow an established procedure to introduce, amend, and repeal the rules found in the Wisconsin Administrative Code. The Wisconsin Legislative Council has created a succinct document summarizing this process entitled, “Review of Administrative Rules.” A detailed manual is also available, but its primary audience is the actual state agencies. The sections in this manual on the promulgation and rule review procedures can, however, be quite helpful to the average researcher.

    The rulemaking process begins with a “Statement of Scope” which provides an overview of the rule. A 2003 Wisconsin Lawyer article, written by Mia Sefarbi, details the value of these statements.

    Another valuable document in the process is the “Report to the Legislative Council Clearinghouse.” This report offers a plain-language analysis, contact information, and factual data for the rule. Individuals should also read the actual “Clearinghouse rule.” This contains the language changes and/or additions to a rule, much like a legislative bill.

    As a proposed rule moves through the various stages, other documents may be worthy of review. For example, the “Summary and Response to Comment” recaps the comments received from the public and the agency’s response. Another important item is the report drafted for the legislators that specifically explains the purpose of the rule.

    Finding Wisconsin administrative rule information 

    The best place, in my opinion, to obtain documents for recent and pending rules is the Wisconsin Administrative Rules website. Selecting the “search” tab and conducting a keyword search allows an individual to easily locate particular rules of interest. I recommend selecting the advanced search option if you need to narrow your results.

    The screenshot below illustrates the layout of data upon selection of a specific rule:

    Investigating Wisconsin administrative rules

    A very nice feature of the website is the ability to receive email notifications of future actions on a particular rule. Users must register to take advantage of this option. For additional information, see the FAQ link. There is also a nice online tutorial available.

    One concern with the site is the lack of a clear indication of coverage dates. I was able to locate information on rules approved back to 2004; however the website may house older information.

    Other resources

    There are other websites to assist with rulemaking research. One such site is the Wisconsin legislature website. It includes Clearinghouse rules back to 2001. The site also supports a hyperlinked “Subject Index.” This index lists hundreds of topics relating to the various administrative agencies (for example, education, environment, small business, banking, and insurance). Individuals can select a topic of interest and find a one-sentence summary of any new or amended rule, its location in the Administrative Code, and a link to the Clearinghouse rule.

    Another resource for this type of research is the Revisor of Statutes. Its website offers excellent guidance for researching superseded code sections. It also produces a list of appellate court citations for specific Administrative Code sections. This can be extremely helpful in quickly locating relevant case law.

    To assist in Wisconsin rulemaking research, these websites offer a great launching point. A future article will address resources for federal administrative rulemaking.

    Author Update, Aug. 11, 2010

    Bruce Hoesly, revising editor and code attorney, Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, contacted me shortly after this article first printed. In his correspondence, Bruce offered his expertise to assist researchers. Below are a few additional tips to supplement the original article.

    Clearinghouse rules are the initial rule filings. The completion of the rulemaking process generates a final rule order. In addition to finding these on Wisconsin Administrative Rule site, the state Legislature’s NXT infobase contains the final rule orders, dating back to 1996. Directly link to the final orders from the historical notes portion of the relevant code section. Also, the Legislative Reference Bureau’s Administrative Code page provides a link to emergency rules in effect.

    In my article, I discuss a few documents to read when conducting this type of research. They include the reports to the Legislative Council and the actual Legislature. Mr. Hoesly reiterated the value of these reports and pointed out that in addition to finding them on the Wisconsin Rule site, the Legislature’s website appends these reports to the Clearinghouse rules.

    I would also like to point out that, in the article, I refer to the Revisor of Statutes. There no longer is a Revisor of Statutes. The bureau’s functions were transferred to the LRB.

    About the author

    Bev Butula is the manager of library of services at Davis & Kuelthau, Milwaukee. She is a past president of the Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin. Bev has written articles and spoken to numerous groups on issues such as effective Internet research, evaluation of Web sites and legal research. Prior to obtaining her Master's Degree in Library Science from UWM, Bev was a litigation paralegal.

    Past articles include:

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