DSPS license crisis caused by a ‘red tape wall’

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — While Gov. Tony Evers  prepares for a second term, the dysfunction at his professional licensing agency continues.

Legislative offices say they continue to receive complaints from constituents about the long delays in processing professional credential applications and renewals at the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS).

In one case, Larry Burnette, a recent graduate from Northern Michigan University, notified state Rep. Shae Sortwell’s office that he’s been operating on a temporary Registered Nurse permit while he waits to be approved for a Wisconsin RN license. He’s had to renew the permit, which allows nurses to practice under direct supervision of a registered nurse for three months until a credential is granted. The permit can be renewed once, according to DSPS.

Like so many applicants in his shoes, Burnette said he hasn’t been able to get ahold of anyone at DSPS. It’s been months since he first applied.

Sortwell’s office says DSPS officials have provided vague explanations for the delay. Evers’ bureaucrats continue to put up a “red tape wall” as health care jobs in particular go unfilled.

DSPS officials had much to explain at Tuesday’s meeting of the Study Committee on Occupational Licensing. There was a lot of frustration, with one committee member calling agency representatives’ responses “bullcrap.”

They heard testimony about an AODA counselor who has been waiting 13 months to get a license. DSPS officials blamed the delay on Wisconsin’s licenses not aligning with those in other states, but the applicant, who holds a master’s degree in substance abuse counseling, has found the process and the agency to be uncooperative.

Mike Tierney, DSPS legislative liaison, continues to argue the department needs more money and more personnel, but DSPS has refused to provide details on where the money is needed and how long it’s taking to process individual license categories.

Sortwell (R-Two Rivers) and Sen. Rob Stafsholt (R-New Richmond), who head the task force, made it clear again that they are not against more funding for the troubled agency, but DSPS needs to justify why their funding requests are necessary. The agency previously had been slow to request and spend millions of dollars the Joint Finance Committee set aside last year, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

DSPS officials also acknowledged that a “majority” of staff continue to work remotely under Evers’ lax virtual state government work force policies. And they admitted that, despite funding to transition to an electronic filing system, DSPS continues to work with a lot of paper files.

“It’s like they don’t even get it,” Sortwell said. “It’s bizarre and they pass it off as if it’s no big deal.”

“I said months ago we (the Legislature) need to try to fix this issue because we didn’t know whether or not we were going to get a more competent administration,” Sortwell added. “Now (following Evers’ re-election victory) it’s more important than ever that we fix this problem.”

Empower Wisconsin | Nov. 16, 2022

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