Wisconsin REINS Act at center of state regulatory impasse

Welcome to the Friday, March 22, Brew. 

By: Samuel Wonacott

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Wisconsin REINS Act at center of state regulatory impasse
  2. Sixteen new statewide measures certified for the ballot in the past two weeks 
  3. #FridayTrivia: How many states have candidate filing deadlines through April 2?

Wisconsin REINS Act at center of state regulatory impasse 

A back-and-forth between Wisconsin officials over how to address groundwater contamination in the state gets at the heart of debates over the administrative state—how much leeway should government agencies have to set and interpret rules apart from lawmakers? 

The administrative state is a term used to describe the phenomenon of executive branch administrative agencies exercising the power to create, adjudicate, and enforce their own rules. 

In December 2023, Gov. Tony Evers (D) announced the cost of implementing the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) proposed standards for limiting per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination in groundwater would violate the Wisconsin REINS Act. The Act, a 2017 law that former Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed, requires lawmakers to authorize administrative rules with compliance and implementation costs of $10 million or more over two years. 

In 2021, an economic impact analysis indicated the DNR’s proposed rule to establish nitrate standards in soils deemed sensitive to groundwater pollution would exceed the REINS Act’s $10 million threshold.

In his 2025 State of the State address, Evers urged Republican legislators to authorize the DNR to continue its PFAS rulemaking process. Wisconsin has a divided government, with Republicans controlling both chambers of the state legislature. Republicans instead continued to support their own bill, SB 312, that would establish a grant program landowners and local governments can use to remediate PFAS contamination.

The Wisconsin Senate approved SB 312 in November 2023 in a 22-11 vote. The Wisconsin Assembly followed suit in February 2024, approving the bill 62-35. Evers has announced he’ll veto the bill and has encouraged the Legislature to consider an alternate plan to address PFAS contamination.

Democratic lawmakers introduced an alternative bill on March 1 that would limit legislative oversight of PFAS standards and exempt PFAS-related regulations from the Wisconsin REINS Act.

Wisconsin lawmakers modeled the REINS Act on a proposed federal law of the same name. Like Wisconsin, Florida also has a REINS-style state law giving legislators the authority to halt the initial enactment of certain administrative regulations. In 2023, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs’ vetoed a REINS-style bill.

Ballotpedia provides neutral, nonpartisan encyclopedic coverage that defines and analyzes the administrative state, including its philosophical origins, legal and judicial precedents, and scholarly examinations of its consequences. The coverage area also monitors and reports on measures of federal government activity. 

You can read more stories like this one in Checks and Balances, our monthly newsletter on the administrative state and the pivotal actions at the federal and state levels related to the separation of powers, due process, and the rule of law. Our latest edition just came out, so click here to subscribe!

Click below to learn more.

Keep reading 

Sixteen new statewide measures certified for the ballot in the past two weeks 

Let’s catch you up on the latest statewide ballot measure certification news. The last two weeks have been busy, with 16 ballot measures—including six citizen initiatives and 10 legislative referrals—certified in eight states. 

So far this year, state election officials have certified 80 measures for the ballot in 30 states—four more than the average (76) for this point in the election cycle from 2012 to 2022. An average of 157 statewide measures were certified in even-numbered years between 2012 and 2022.

Certified measures

Below is a list of the measures certified in the last two weeks. Read our previous coverage of Alaska’s minimum wage measure, North Dakota’s age limits measure, and Kentucky’s education measure

Pending measures

Meanwhile, signatures have been submitted and are pending verification for one initiative in California:

Indirect initiatives 

In nine states, measures first go before lawmakers once campaigns collect the requisite number of valid signatures. Over the last two weeks, election officials in Maine and Massachusetts verified enough signatures for the following seven initiatives to go to state legislators:

In Maine and Massachusetts, lawmakers can pass the initiative outright within a certain number of days. In Maine, when lawmakers take no action or reject the initiative, the initiative is put on the ballot for voters to decide. In Massachusetts, if lawmakers take no action, petitioners must collect a second round of signatures to place the initiative on the ballot.

What’s next?

The next signature deadline is May 1, in Idaho, where two initiatives have been proposed—one to legalize medical marijuana, and another to create a top-four ranked-choice voting (RCV) system.

The most recent signature deadline for citizen initiatives was Feb. 15 in Utah. Signatures were filed for one initiative, but less than the number required.

Click below to learn more about 2024 ballot measures. 

Keep reading 

#FridayTrivia: How many states have candidate filing deadlines through April 2?

On March 19, Ballotpedia covered primaries and special elections in nine states. The next big election day is April 2, when 12 states will hold elections. 

Between now and April 2, candidate filing deadlines will pass in a number of states for contests in the coming months. These deadlines and regulations, known as ballot access laws, determine whether and how candidates appear on the ballot. These laws are set at the state level and apply to candidates running for state and congressional offices. 

We looked at upcoming candidate filing deadlines in the March 18 Brew, and we’ll continue regularly updating you on the important deadlines for candidates running in elections this year. 

How many states have candidate filing deadlines between now and April 2?

  1. 7
  2. 13
  3. 2
  4. 10