Republican AG Sides with Construction Industry on State Sprinkler Rule

December 11, 2017

Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel is siding with the construction industry, which has donated nearly $170,000 to his campaign, saying the state can’t require sprinkler systems to fight fires in apartment buildings with 20 units or fewer.

In an opinion issued Friday, Schimel said the state Department of Safety and Professional Standards is prohibited by a 2011 state law from enforcing a rule it approved in 2008 that requires sprinklers in apartment buildings built in 2011 and beyond that have three units or more.

The state law approved in 2011 by the GOP-controlled legislature and Republican Gov. Scott Walker prohibits state agencies from developing rules that are stricter than state law. Current state law requires sprinkler systems in apartment buildings with more than 20 units.

The department asked Schimel for a legal opinion on the matter after the Wisconsin Builders Association questioned whether the agency rule was valid. The group had challenged the rule in court in the past and lost. The association said it opposed the rule because of the costs it adds to apartment building construction.

The builders’ group was among a band of powerful special interests that supported the 2011 law restricting state agency rules involving public health, safety, construction, agriculture, environmental, and consumer protection, among other things.

Firefighters and other safety advocates warned that shedding the rule would cost lives.

The construction industry contributed about $169,700 to Schimel’s campaign between January 2013 and June 2017, including $11,500 from the Wisconsin Builders Association’s political action committee (PAC).

Other top construction industry contributors to Schimel during the period were:

Robert Merkel, of Marshfield, owner of the Merkel Co., $12,500;

Diane Hendricks, of Beloit, owner of ABC Supply, $10,000;

Kimberlee Hendricks, of Janesville, an ABC Supply executive, $9,000;

Thomas Schuette, of Wausau, president of Wausau Homes, and his wife, Connie, $8,750.