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Rotunda Report
  • Rotunda Report
    September 25, 2023

    State Bar and Wisconsin Uniform Law Commission: Partners in Promoting Uniformity in State Laws

    As important to the the practice as it is to lawmaking, the Uniform Law Commission probably doesn't get enough attention or credit for its role in standardizing law across the United States.

    Cale Battles

    Old law books

    Sept. 25, 2023 – In 1892, as interstate commerce was growing in the country, states were struggling with a patchwork of laws that varied greatly when trying to operate a business or move products from state to state. To promote a more unified and practical set of laws, the American Bar Association recommended that a Uniform Law Commission (ULC) be created.

    The ULC includes commissioners from every state as well as members from the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each individual jurisdiction appoints its commissioners, all of whom must be members of the bar.

    In Wisconsin, a Commission on Uniform State Laws is created by Wis. Stat. §13.55. The Wisconsin commission consists of nine members: two public members appointed by the governor, four legislative members (two from each house and from different political parties), the director of the Legislative Council or staff designee, and chief of the Legislative Reference Bureau or staff designee. A legislative seat can also be filled by a former legislator if no current legislator meets the criteria, or if no eligible legislator is willing or able to accept the appointment.

    The Wisconsin Commission meets annually to review all current and previous uniform acts passed by the ULC. Because its membership includes sitting legislators, they can request Wisconsin drafts and introduce the bills themselves. In most cases the commission will forward the bills to specific practice sections of the State Bar of Wisconsin for further review.

    The State Bar’s role in the review process usually consists of the creation of a working group of interested practitioners that reviews proposals line by line, often working in conjunction with other professional and trade organizations that will be affected by the proposed bill. While the goal of such working groups is to promote interstate uniformity, prior law, unique state conditions and other factors are also considered, which sometimes results in a working group recommendation to retain current Wisconsin law.

    How Does the National Commission on Uniform State Laws Work?

    ULC commissioners meet annually as a Committee of the Whole at a National Conference to review, debate, study, and amend uniform drafts. Most uniform act proposals focus on specific areas of law, including: family law, estates, probate and trusts, real estate, commercial law and alternative dispute resolution. Once an issue has been identified, a drafting committee is created to develop a proposal (sometimes over a multiyear period), which is then forwarded to the National Conference for review. Proposals must be presented at no fewer than two annual meetings of the Committee of the Whole. Most drafts are amended further during this process.

    Cale Battles Cale Battles, is the senior government relations coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. He can be reached by email, or by phone at (608) 250-6077.

    After the Committee of the Whole approves the proposal, it must be voted on by each individual state. There is only one vote per jurisdiction and a majority must be present to vote. At least 20 jurisdictions must vote to approve a proposal before it is officially adopted as an “act” and disseminated for consideration by the jurisdictions. The act can take the form of either a “Uniform Act,” which must be adopted exactly as written by the ULC, or a “Model Act,” which serves as a guide for states and other jurisdictions.

    The ULC has passed or proposed more than 200 uniform or model acts, many of which have gained nationwide acceptance, especially in business or commercial law (including the Uniform Commercial Code, Uniform Sales Act, Uniform Partnership Act and others).

    Uniform Law Commission Acts to be considered by the Wisconsin Legislature

    Several recently passed acts have enjoyed bipartisan support and favorable votes by the legislature and been signed by the Governor. These include a number of large updates including 2021 Wisconsin Act 258 (Senate Bill 566), which adopted two Uniform Laws and brings uniformity to five chapters of business entity laws that was an initiative of the Business Law Section. The Real Property, Probate and Trust (RPPT) section has worked on a number of acts with the ULC including the Uniform Remote Notarization Act (2019 Wisconsin Act 125).

    Current projects in the works or that will be introduced soon include  the RPPT Section’s work on the adoption of the Uniform Powers of Appointment Act and trailer legislation on the Uniform Trust Act (2013 Wisconsin Act 92) and Wisconsin’s Digital Property Act (2015 Wisconsin Act 300), both passed with the section’s support. The section also is reviewing remote notarization changes and witnessing estate planning documents along with the Uniform Partition of Heirs Act.

    The Business Law section is dedicating much of its work this fall to reviewing the Uniform Commercial Code on emerging technologies and virtual currencies. The section is also in the process of reviewing the Uniform Foreign-Country Money Judgments Recognition Act and the Uniform Voidable Transactions Act.

    Current Wisconsin Commission of Uniform State Law Members

    • Senator Eric Wimberger (Senate-Majority)

    • Senator Kelda Roys (Senate-Minority)

    • Representative Ron Tusler (Assembly-Majority), Chairperson

    • Representative Tip McGuire (Assembly-Minority)

    • David Zvenyach (Public Member)

    • Senator Fred Risser (Public Member)

    • Margit Kelley (Legislative Council Staff)

    • Aaron Gary (Legislative Reference Bureau), Secretary

    • Justice David T. Prosser, Jr.*

    • Senator Joanne B. Huelsman*

    *Appointed under s. 13.55 (1) (a) 1. f.

    Life Members

    • Representative David Cullen

    • Peter J. Dykman

    • Shaun P. Haas

    • Senator Joanne Huelsman

    • Justice David T. Prosser, Jr.

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