Publication of Statutory Amendments: Readers Beware

November 11, 2011

The State of Wisconsin provides easy and free access to its annotated statutes both online and in print volumes in libraries throughout the state. Online users can see the current 2007-2008 Wisconsin Statutes updated through all the Acts of the 2009 Legislature and June 30, 2010 on the Wisconsin Legislature’s website. However, online users should be careful and read closely. According to the Legislature’s website, “statutory changes effective on or prior to July 2, 2010 are reproduced as if currently in effect. Changes effective after July 2, 2010 are designated by NOTES” that appear at the end of the statute section. Even with this clarification, however, a close inspection of any statute section is warranted.

Consider Chapter 800 of the Wisconsin Statutes as an example of how statutory changes are handled online. Chapter 800 was substantially amended by 2009 Wis. Act 402, one of the last Acts of the 2009 Legislature. These amendments do not go into effect until January 1, 2011. Right now, on the Wisconsin Legislature’s website, the main text of section 800.02 shows the law that will be in effect on January 1, 2011. If you want to know the current statute, you must look to the note at the end of the section (following subsection 800.02(6)). The note states “this section is shown as affected eff. 1-1-11 by 2009 Wis. Act 402. Prior to 1-1-11 it reads:” and is followed by a reproduction of the entire section as it is in effect prior to January 1, 2011. Chapter 138 of the statutes provides more examples of the language shown representing the law that will be in effect on January 1, 2011. For the statutes currently in effect, one must read the notes of several subsections. Interestingly, by showing the law that will be in effect after July 2, 2010, these statutes contradict the Legislature’s own notice regarding how statutory updates are handled in the online editions.

Chapter 101 provides another example of why it is important to read the notes following a statute section. Section 101.862, license, registration, or certification required, addresses those who may or may not install, repair or maintain electrical wiring. The section contains several subsections and provides many details. At the end of the section, the note states that “this section is created eff. 4-1-13 by 2007 Wis. Act 63.” For the law that is in effect on January 1, 2011, this section can be disregarded.

Also, look closely at fee-based online sources. Westlaw, for example, shows the two texts of section 800.02 in tandem — first listing what is in effect before January 1, 2011, and then listing what will be in effect as of January 1, 2011. Westlaw also shows the full text for section 101.862, with a heading that indicates it is effective on April 1, 2013.

Confusing? Perhaps. This is also a reminder that even though online sources are considered the most current, a careful reading of the statute and accompanying notes is imperative to be certain of the current law and the effective dates of any additions, deletions or changes.