When The Chickens Come Home

Wisconsin Public Radio recently reported that the Walker administration is not enforcing fire safety codes. The laws requiring fire suppression sprinklers in apartment buildings are in conflict with another anti-regulation law passed by the Walker wrecking crew.

As I have written in the past, there are consequences to the destructive, mean spirited, short sighted, ideologically driven agendas of the radical Republicans now in charge of Wisconsin and the nation. The consequences of their senseless actions frequently hurt people. Refusing to enforce basic fire safety for ideological reasons should alarm us all.

Fire suppression sprinkler systems are a cost effective, proven way to improve fire safety.

Quoted in several news reports, Milwaukee Fire Chief Mark Rohlfing has said legislators need to address this issue. Weakening the fire code is “disheartening” because “the single most important component of [fire safety] is a sprinkler system.”

Currently the Wisconsin fire code requires sprinklers be installed into new apartment buildings with between 3 and 20 units. The rule was established by the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services seven years ago. It is more restrictive than a state law approved in 2011 which only requires sprinklers in buildings with more than 20 units.

In 2011 the radical Republicans passed Wisconsin Act 21 which says state agencies can’t create regulations that are more restrictive than state law. This created the conflict between the two laws. Rather than resolve that conflict in the favor of public safety, Walker is choosing ideological purity. The dismantling of “regulations” is apparently more important to him than people’s safety.

Wisconsin Act 21 vests the Governor’s office with the power to enact, amend, or repeal administrative rules. Prior to Act 21, agencies had rule making authority which was subject to legislative oversight. With Act 21 the Legislature ceded its authority to the Governor.

So Walker has the power to make an exception with the fire codes. Claiming there is a conflict that prevents their enforcement is a purely political act intended to allow the gutting of “regulations” that impact on favored business interests.

The Wisconsin Builders Association has opposed the sprinkler rule because it increases construction costs. Apparently they do not care about the safety of people either. But aside from that, their opposition makes no sense from a business perspective. If everyone must meet reasonable, sensible requirements to install sprinklers this would INCREASE work for the contractors in the builders association.

It would provide them with new profit generating opportunities. It should be obvious that sprinklers would help prevent losses and lower insurance costs for the apartment building owners. The often repeated canard that government regulations hurt business and the economy is simply not true. But ideology often blinds business as well as political leaders.

Controversy over the proper role of government in regulating business is as old as the nation. Conservatives of both parties have always opposed restrictions on “freedom” of business to make money without regard to the health, safety, honesty, environmental damage, or the consequences for consumers and the public. So is should not be surprising that today’s anti-government ideologues take every opportunity to hamstring or eliminate needed controls.

Walker’s fire sprinkler foolishness is a disaster waiting to happen. Sooner or later people will be hurt or killed by the radical right’s anti-regulation mania. Sooner or later the chickens will come home to roost.