Wisconsin Department of Commerce Newsletter
April 2006
Small Business Ombudsman Available at Commerce

Small business owners have an advocate at the Department of Commerce. The Small Business Ombudsman (SBO), serves as a guide and advocate for small business owners interacting with state government agencies. The ombudsman's job is to investigate complaints against state agencies and determine if a business has been treated fairly. If the SBO concludes that your complaint is justified, she will work with you and the agency to find a fair solution. If your complaint is not justified, the ombudsman will do her best to explain the reasoning behind the agency's determination. Generally, it is best to think of the SBO as a last resort -- someone who will try to help when other approaches have failed. If you find you cannot reach an agreement or the dialogue has broken down between you and a state agency, please give the SBO a call. Inquiries will be kept confidential.

The SBO also helps implement Wisconsin's regulatory reform law. In March of 2004, Governor Doyle signed into law Wisconsin Act 145 which created a number of regulatory reforms designed to help small business. One of these regulatory reforms was the creation of the Small Business Regulatory Review Board (SBRRB). One of the primary functions of this board is to ensure state agencies comply with the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA). The RFA requires that agencies examine the economic impact of their rules on small business since smaller businesses usually bear a disproportionate share of regulatory costs and burdens. In Wisconsin, 97 percent of the businesses are defined as small. This means they are "independently owned and operated, employ less than 25 employees or have yearly revenue of less than $5,000,000."

The statutes for rulemaking require state agencies to consider the economic impact of their rules, analyze methods to reduce the economic impact and to make their business impact analysis available for public comment. The SBRRB provides regulatory oversight to ensure the agency compliance with these requirements. State agencies must submit new or revised administrative rules having a significant impact on small business to the SBRRB. Through the SBRRB, the public may challenge the accuracy of an agency's determination on the economic impact of the proposed rule or the lack of an attempt by the agency to quantify the economic impact of the rule. The SBRRB has the statutory authority to report non-compliance with these statutory requirements to the agency secretary and to the Joint Legislative Council.

The SBRRB also has the statutory authority to hear from small business about problematic existing rules. Rules seen as economically burdensome, out-of-date, overly complex, duplicative or in conflict with other regulations may be brought forward to the board. If the SBRRB determines an issue has merit, a report for action will be sent to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rule Review. An Existing Rule Complaint form can be found on the SBRRB website. On this website you'll also find Guidelines for Public Testimony. As an advocate for small businesses, the ombudsman will assist businesses in adequately addressing concerns with an existing rule to the SBRRB.

In addition to the creation of the SBRRB, Act 145 created additional regulatory reforms that include:

  1. Creating Small Business Regulatory Coordinators within each state agency to act as a single point of contact on regulatory issues.
  2. Requiring state agencies to write a rule that provides a disclosure of when they will not allow discretion in the enforcement of a rule or guideline against small business.
  3. Requiring state agencies to ensure the accuracy, integrity, objectivity and consistency of the data used when preparing a proposed rule.
  4. Creating a centralized internet website for all state administrative rules.
  5. Providing a delayed compliance effective date for rules that significantly impact small business as the first day of the third month.
  6. Providing injunctive relief to small business when a penalty results from receiving inaccurate advice or failure to receive a response in a reasonable amount of time from a state agency.

Become an active participant in state rule development process. Stay abreast of rules that may impact your business by signing up for the Wisconsin Regulatory Alert. This monthly e-mail service provides you with a quick look at the rules that are either going to public hearing or are in the initial phase of rule development. It's an easy way to stay on top of rule development and to provide state agencies with comments on how the rule may impact your business. The Public Comment period is your opportunity to inform state agencies about any alternatives or methods to reduce negative impacts. No one knows better than you, the small business owner, how a rule will impact your business operations.

Act 145 provides small businesses with a unique opportunity to be heard and be involved in our state rulemaking process. Subscribe to the Wisconsin Regulatory Alert, visit the SBRRB Web Site, or submit your concerns with an existing rule or regulation. Most importantly, take the time to learn about the requirements that state agencies have to you as a business owner.

Carol Dunn, Small Business Ombudsman
608-267-0297

Ombudsman Web Site & Regulatory Alert Sign Up:
http://commerce.wi.gov/BD/MT-FAX-0905.html

SBRRB Web Site:
http://commerce.wi.gov/BD/BD-SBRRB.html

Wisconsin Administrative Rule Web Site:
https://apps4.dhfs.state.wi.us/admrules/public/Home

 -- Carol Dunn

The newsletter is issued electronically every other month.

Please send comments or questions to Barbro McGinn, editor.

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