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Legislative Reference Bureau

Legislative Reference Bureau

STATE OF WISCONSIN

STATE OF WISCONSIN

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Q&A

A sampling of questions received by the LRB Reference Section. Check back frequently for new information. For FAQs about the Wisconsin Legislature and the legislative process, see www.legis.wisconsin.gov/

QWhat are the laws regarding officiating a wedding in Wisconsin?

AWisconsin Statute Section 765.16 lists those who are authorized to officiate a wedding. The following section, s. 765.17, outlines necessary qualifications and sponsorship for a nonresident officiating person.

QHas the number of Representatives in the Wisconsin Assembly always been 99?

AThe Wisconsin Constitution does not specify the numbers of members of each house, but it does establish upper and lower limits. Article IV, Section 2 states, "The number of members of the assembly shall never be less than fifty-four nor more than one hundred. The senate shall consist of a number not more than one-third nor less than one-fourth of the number of members of the assembly."

From Statehood in 1848 to 1852, the Assembly had 66 members. It increased to 82 for 1853-56, 97 for 1857-62, and 100 starting in 1863 all the way through 1971. It changed to the current 99 for the 1973-74 session.

The number of Senators has changed over the years from 19 for 1848-52, 25 for 1853-56, 30 for 1857-62, and the current 33 from 1863 to present.

QWhen do amendments to the Wisconsin Constitution take effect?

AAccording to Article XII, Section 1, of the Wisconsin Constitution, amending the constitution requires that both houses of each of two consecutive legislatures adopt a joint resolution proposing a constitutional amendment, to be submitted to the voters for approval. The joint resolutions must be identical on both "first consideration" and "second consideration"; if the resolution is amended on second consideration, the process must start over again before it can be placed on the ballot.

If a proposed constitutional amendment qualifies to be placed on the ballot and voters approve it, Section 7.70 (3) (h), Wisconsin Statutes, states that it goes into effect when the election results are certified unless the resolution specifies a different effective date.

Other Resources:

Wisconsin Constitution

Chapter 7 (for Section 7.70), Wisconsin Statutes

Pending Constitutional Amendments and a Wisconsin Brief explaining current constitutional amendments given first consideration by the 2009 Wisconsin Legislature.

Governing Wisconsin on "Amending the Wisconsin Constitution"

QWhen was Wisconsin's open meetings law first created?

AIt was created by Chapter 289, Laws of 1959.

QWhat are the rules for how many parking spaces must be reserved for persons with disabilities?

ASection 346.503, Wisconsin Statutes, states that a facility offering 26-49 parking spaces must have at least one space designated for persons with disabilities. For a facility with 50-1,000 spaces, at least 2% of all spaces must be reserved for persons with disabilities. For facilities with more than 1,000 spaces, the requirement is 2% for the first 1,000 spaces and 1% for spaces in excess of 1,000. The spaces reserved for persons with disabilities must be at least 12 feet wide. See Section 346.503 for additional details.

QWho is responsible for trimming trees that are on my neighbor's property but overhang my land?

AThere appears to be no Wisconsin statute that assigns responsibility among neighbors for tree maintenance. Municipal ordinances may apply, particularly if the trees are considered nuisances that pose a hazard to health or safety, or could negatively affect property values. In general, who is responsible for maintaining trees on or near a boundary line is subject to common law that has resulted from rulings by judges over the years. The University of Tennessee Extension has published a summary of this topic, "Tree Owner's Rights and Responsibilities."

QDoes the state allow municipalities to issue PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) bonds, which allow building owners to pay for energy efficiency improvements over time through an increase in their annual property taxes?

AOne provision of 2009 Wisconsin Act 11 allows political subdivisions (cities, villages, towns, and counties) to make loans for energy efficiency improvements to residential property. The political subdivision would collect the loan repayments as a special charge on the property owner's property tax bill, and the special charge could be payable in installments.

QDoes Wisconsin have a law regarding breastfeeding in the workplace?

AThe Wisconsin Legislature passed, and the governor signed into law, 2009 Wisconsin Act 148 regarding breastfeeding in any public or private location.

QWhen did Wisconsin extend the 2 a.m. legal closing time for pubs to year-around, rather than only during Daylight Saving Time?

AChapter 140, Laws of 1959, extended closing time for outside of Milwaukee County from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m., but only during Daylight Saving Time. Closing time remained at 1 a.m. Central Standard Time for the rest of the year. It became 2 a.m. year-around (except for 2:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings) following the enactment of 1987 Wisconsin Act 121, effective December 8, 1987.

QI am an active duty military member stationed in Germany and was wondering do I have to attend a hunters safety course in order to obtain a hunting license?

ASection 29.593, Wisconsin Statutes, generally requires persons born on or after January 1, 1973 to complete the Hunter Education Program under s. 29.591 in order to receive a hunting license. However, s. 29.593 (3) exempts from the hunter's safety course requirement any person who has successfully completed basic training in the U.S. armed forces, reserves, or national guard.

QWhen a car is going to enter onto the highway/interstate using the on ramp and there are cars already on the highway/interstate in the lane that connects to that on ramp, who has the right-of-way, the car already on the freeway or the car that is trying to enter it?

AGeneral rules of right-of-way are described in statute section 346.18. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Motorist’s Handbook (page 39) gives the following advice:

“Entering traffic: When you merge with traffic, try to enter at the same speed that traffic is moving. High-speed roadways generally have ramps to give you time to build up your speed. Use the ramp to reach the speed of other vehicles before you merge into traffic. Do not drive to the end of the ramp and stop or you will not have enough room to get up to the speed of traffic. Also, drivers behind you will not expect you to stop. If they are watching the traffic on the main road, you may be hit from the rear. If you have to wait for space to enter a roadway, slow down on the ramp so you have some room to speed up before you have to merge. You must yield to traffic already moving on the roadway. It is illegal to cross the solid white line and merge early.”

QWhen did Wisconsin establish special elections to fill a vacancy for United States Senator from Wisconsin?

AChapter 647, Laws of 1957, provided for a temporary appointment by the governor, and the appointee would serve as U.S. Senator until a regular primary and general election cycle, either the next September primary and November general election if the vacancy occurred before 60 days prior to the second Tuesday in July of an even-numbered year, or the primary and general election two years hence if the vacancy occurred after that deadline. (If the next general election would have ordinarily been for the full six-year term anyway, the appointed Senator would simply complete the unexpired term.)

1985 Wisconsin Act 304 established the possibility of a special election to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy, completely eliminating the interim appointment by the governor, leaving the seat empty until after an election. Current law provides that a vacancy that occurs between the second Tuesday in May and the second Tuesday in July in an even-numbered year will be filled at the regular September primary and November general election. Otherwise, the seat is filled in a special election. For the current law, see Sections 8.50 and 17.18, Wisconsin Statutes.

QCan landlords charge pet fees for service dogs and do service dogs need to be certified to override the fee?

AAccording to federal fair housing laws, landlords are required to allow reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities. Service animals should not be considered as pets, and therefore, landlords may not prohibit a service animal from living in the unit or charge the tenant extra rent or deposit. The tenant may be required to provide a note from a physician that verifies the service animal is needed as an accommodation to the person with the disability, but the animal need not be a certified service animal.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has publications available about fair housing and can direct you to local fair housing resources. You can also visit HUD’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) Web site for more information.

QAre studded tires legal in Wisconsin?

A Section 347.45, Wisconsin Statutes, generally prohibits the use of studded tires, but provides exceptions for authorized emergency vehicles, school buses, vehicles used to deliver mail, and out-of-state vehicles passing through this state over a period of not more than 30 days. When allowed for those uses, the studs must not project more than one-eighth inch beyond the tread surface of the tire, and may be used on those specified vehicles only during November 15-April 1.

Tire chains may be used on any vehicle when required for safety because of snow, ice or other conditions tending to cause a vehicle to skid.

QWhen was the last time each party had a majority in both houses of the legislature, and held the governor's office?

AThe last time the Democrats controlled both houses of the legislature and there was a Democratic governor was the 2009 Legislative Session, when the Democrats held a 18-15 majority in the Senate, and a 52-46 majority in the Assembly. Democrat Jim Doyle was the governor at that time.

Prior to the 2011 and 2013 Legislative Sessions, the last time the Republicans controlled both houses of the legislature and there was a Republican governor was in 1998, when, following a special election, the GOP took a 17-16 majority in the Senate.  The Republicans held a 52-47 (one Independent) majority in the Assembly at the beginning of the 1997 session, and maintained the majority throughout the session despite numerous resignations and special elections.  The governor was Republican Tommy Thompson.

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