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Administrative Law Research Guide: WI Regulations

This guide is intended for students who are learning about administrative law and its sources, and to help scholars and practitioners locate materials in the library and online. Content additions will be gradual but steady. Please check back often!

Wisconsin Administrative Code

Wisconsin regulations are called rules, though you may hear the terms "rules" and "regulations" used interchangeably. Wisconsin administrative rules are found in the Wisconsin Administrative Code (WAC). Just like federal regulations, Wisconsin rules have the force of law. Their underlying authority comes from statutes and the Wisconsin Constitution. 

   The Wisconsin Administrative Code is divided into chapters, alphabetically, by agency. Agency chapters begin with an abbreviated designation for the agency name. For example, the first chapter is the Accounting Examining Board, which has the code abbreviation Accy. The final chapter is Workforce Development, which has the abbreviation DWD − for Department of Workforce Development. The table of contents for the Code lists the full agency names and abbreviations. A menu for administrative code-related pages is available on the state legislature website.  

An online version of the Wisconsin Administrative Code is published by the state government, on the Wisconsin Legislature page.  Beginning in 2015, widespread government printing of the Code ceased. Print copies can be ordered for individual purchase with annual updating. Monthly updates of the printed Wisconsin Administrative Code are provided by the State to repository libraries, including Marquette's Eckstein Law Library. 

Lexis, Westlaw, Bloomberg Law, and Fastcase offer annotated, online versions of the Wisconsin Administrative Code

The Legislative Reference Bureau home page is another place to start your Wisconsin regulatory research. Wisconsin's government websites provide free access to state administrative law materials. These are not official, but are regularly used by the legal community.  

See https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/administrativecode/published for publication details.

The print version of the Wisconsin Administrative Code at Eckstein Law Library is an eighteen volume, loose-leaf series, updated monthly. Replaced pages are bound separately and retained. These materials are located on the first floor of the library in the reference area.   

Wisconsin Administrative Register

  The Wisconsin Administrative Register publishes updates to Wisconsin agency rules and is the source for tracking proposed rulemaking and other agency actions. It is similar to the Federal Register, for Wisconsin state regulatory activity. 

   Emergency rules, which are designed to be temporary and are reactive to an exigency of some kind, are not inserted into the Wisconsin Administrative Code. All emergency rules in effect are published in the current Register.  Executive orders, created by the governor, are published in the Wisconsin Administrative Register at the time they are issued, and are compiled in the "Exec" chapter of the current Wisconsin Administrative Code.

   Historically, Wisconsin's Register has been published twice a month in print and online.  Beginning January, 2015, new issues are published weekly, only online. Access to the Wisconsin Administrative Register, including term searching capability, launches from the Wisconsin legislature's administrative rules page.

The WISCONSIN LEGISLATOR BRIEFING BOOK is produced by attorneys at the Wisconsin   Legislative Council. The "Briefing Book" is updated each biennium.  

Researchers should consult Ch. 5 -- Administrative Rulemaking, which provides a detailed and chronological description  of the rulemaking process in Wisconsin. It should be read with the state administrative procedure act, Wis. Stat. Ch. 227.  New legislation was enacted in the current  session that amends Ch. 227  and will alter the rulemaking process again. The Briefing Book will be updated and remains useful for an understanding of the Wisconsin rulemaking  process, including relevant statutes and executive actions that govern it. Keep up with amendments to Ch. 227 by checking the most current version of Wisconsin Statutes.

How to Cite Wisconsin Administrative Rules

Wisconsin administrative rules and Wisconsin statutes look numerically similar to each other, but if complete citations are used, the differences are plain. Wisconsin statutes are divided topically, by numbered chapters, followed by decimals for chapter sections and subsections. Citations to the state statutes always start with "Wis. Stat."  Compare:

Wisconsin Statute example: The statute that describes how someone may register to vote in Wisconsin (by mail or in-person) is in Ch. 6, Section 30 of Wisconsin Statutes. The correct citation for this statute is Wis. Stat. § 6.30.

Wisconsin Administrative Rule example: The Elections Commission (EL) is the agency that regulates voting and elections in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Administrative Code § EL 3.02 describes requirements for the content of the voter registration form.

In the Wisconsin Administrative Code, Wisconsin Statutes, Wisconsin Reports, Wisconsin Guide to Citation, the Wisconsin Legislature website, and in most other sources, the example above is cited like this:

Wis. Admin. Code § EL 3.02 (2017)

  • Wis. Admin. Code is the abbreviation for the Wisconsin Administrative Code.
  • § is the symbol used to announce the name of the agency volume, numerical chapter, and section of the rule. 
  • EL is the abbreviation for the agency that promulgated the rule. 
  • 3  is the numerical abbreviation for the chapter in the Elections Commission rules where this rule is found.
  • .02 is the decimal subsection of EL Ch. 3 that describes what is required in voter registration forms.
  • (2017) is the year of the code being cited. 

(The Bluebook recommends citing Wisconsin administrative rules slightly differently, moving the chapter symbol to the right of the agency abbreviation, like this: Wis. Admin. Code EL § 3.02 (2017).  See T1.3  However, this citation form is not the Wisconsin local form.)

The Wisconsin Administrative Code is assembled alphabetically according to the names of the state agencies. An agency abbreviation always precedes a numbered rule. If you are citing an entire chapter, use the "Ch." abbreviation:

Wis. Admin. Code Ch. EL 3 (2017).  You will not find this in the Bluebook at all. But, it is the Wisconsin form.

When reading or researching, always note the abbreviation for the agency, an essential part of a Wisconsin rule citation. When researching across chapters in the Wisconsin Administrative Code, use agency designations in your notes and eliminate the possibility of confusion between identically numbered rules that are from different state agencies and are not the same rule at all.  Always cite completely.

WI Legislative Documents Website: Links to WI Regulatory Pages and Related Law