Fred Risser, Patrick Testin

In Wisconsin, under current law, agencies can charge a consumer $10 for each request to freeze, temporarily lift or remove a freeze. Sens. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point, and Fred Risser, D-Madison, want to change that.

PHOTO BY JESSIE OPOIEN

Credit bureaus could no longer charge Wisconsin residents a fee to have their credit frozen under a bipartisan bill proposed by four state lawmakers. 

The legislation, currently being circulated for co-sponsorship, comes several weeks after a massive data breach was revealed at Equifax, one of the three major credit bureaus. The hack exposed the personal information of as many as 143 million people, the company said. 

Consumers can have their credit frozen to prevent their report from being accessed and thwart identity thieves from opening accounts with their information. But in most states, the bureaus can charge a fee between $2 and $10 to do so.

In Wisconsin, under current law, agencies can charge a consumer $10 for each request to freeze, temporarily lift or remove a freeze. Sens. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point, and Fred Risser, D-Madison, want to change that.

The two lawmakers each had constituents in their districts contact them in frustration upon learning they would be charged to have their information protected by the companies that collected it.

"It doesn't make sense that consumers aren't in control of their own information and data," Testin said in an interview.

Risser and Testin agreed consumer protection "is not a partisan issue."

"In a day and age where data breaches and hacking are an exceedingly common occurrence and names and identities are being sold on the dark web, it's not right to have a fee associated with this," Testin said. 

Wisconsin's law allowing credit bureaus to charge a fee for freezes was introduced and passed with bipartisan support and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle in 2006. 

Only five states currently prohibit charging for a freeze request, and only three of those states ban charging for all three requests — freezing, thawing and lifting.

"The credit agencies secure an awful lot of information on the people, and in return for that information, the consumer should have the right to freeze their account," Risser said. 

Risser and Testin hope to pass their bill quickly, but it's currently unclear when lawmakers will be back on the floor to vote on additional legislation. The bill is sponsored in the Assembly by Reps. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, and Pat Snyder, R-Schofield. 

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.