Citizen Boards Gutted in Governor’s Budget
Wisconsin “citizen boards” have a long history in Wisconsin government. The philosophy behind their enactment: the people that have to live with the rules of government deserve an active hand in the making of policy and in the consequences for violating the laws. There are many professional boards that review the laws that regulate professions and there are department specific citizen governing boards for the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

In Governor Walker’s budget he proposes the elimination of the DATCP and DNR Boards as policy making boards as well as the Conservation Congress as a direct citizen vote on the policies of the DNR Board. The boards would remain in name, but not power, becoming “advisory” rather than policy setting.

The DNR board, which has been in place in some form since 1928, would no longer have the authority to vote on rule changes and set policy for the Department of Natural Resources. The Conservation Congress meets once every year in every single county in the state of Wisconsin and directly voices an opinion on policies before the DNR Board.

In 1972, Governor Patrick Lucey signed legislation that legally recognized the Conservation Congress to ensure that citizens would have a liaison between the Natural Resources Board and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Because the DNR has so many rules and regulations issued in every corner of the state as well as enforcement of those rules, a little direct communication from the citizens effected by the DNR is a good plan. In fact it is a plan that has worked for a long time.

In DATCP, the board serves the same purpose as in the DNR; a 9-member citizen board, establishes policy for DATCP. Currently, the chair owns a potato and vegetable farm. Other members include a CO-OP member, a cheese company owner, a cranberry association member, a financial officer for an agriculture bank and of course a few dairy farmers. DATCP regulates primarily agriculture in Wisconsin. DATCP also regulates trade and administers and enforces the Wisconsin Consumer Act and the Wisconsin Do Not Call list. The value of citizen input from the DATCP Board is essential for thoughtful and appropriate governing.

The Governor should not eliminate the Conservation Congress the DNR Board or the DATCP Board. There is no reason and no explanation of this move. Citizen government is essential. Political appointees and bureaucrats should receive advice from the people of this state directly and the citizen board system gives just that. I will be working in the Joint Committee on Finance to change the state budget and to restore the DNR and DATCP citizen boards as well as the Conservation Congress.

Please contact my office with additional questions or comments on this or any other state budget issue at 608-266-6670 or 888-549-0027 or via email sen.erpenbach@legis.wi.gov