2017-2018 Legislative Session

As an advocate for the legal rights of all Wisconsin citizens, the Wisconsin Association for Justice works with the legislature and other governmental bodies to preserve our civil justice system and ensure everyone has the ability to seek justice - including preserving the Constitutional right to a civil jury trial.

New legislators were installed January 3, 2017. WAJ will begin lobbying legislators as legislation begins to circulate in the Capitol. If you would like to help, please contact your area legislators and make sure they protect the legal rights Wisconsin consumers.  Here the link to contact your legislators.

List of Bills Monitored by WAJ During the 2017-18 Session

This page will be updated with information on WAJ's core legislative priorities. We will strive to include information on bills affecting civil justice as they are introduced and debated. 

As the legislative session progresses, please visit the Wisconsin Ethics Commission's (formerly the GAB) Eye on Lobbying Website to see the full list of bills on which WAJ has taken a position. The website lists all bills on which WAJ has taken a position and on which WAJ has lobbied legislators. 

If you need more information about WAJ's legislative activity, please contact Jim Rogers: jim@wisjustice.org

March 31, 2017

All Eyes on Budget Deliberations as JFC Holds Agency Briefings

The WAJ lobbying team continues to meet with legislators in the Capitol and with legislators at home in their districts.

Worker’s Compensation a Major Focus. Dan McCormick, Mike Gillick and Charlie Domer (and others) have been actively helping the WAJ lobbying team press legislators on the consequences of changes to Wisconsin’s Worker’s Compensation program.

  • WAJ Educating Members on LIRC Elimination and Court Reporter Reduction. WAJ has met with legislators repeatedly throughout the past month. Working together with allies, WAJ has meetings scheduled for next week as well. WAJ will continue meeting throughout the month of April as legislators continue to refine and shape the budget for the next biennial.
  • JFC Began Agency Briefings on Tuesday March 28. Agency leaders began briefing members of the Joint Finance Committee on Tuesday March 28. Of the agencies relevant to WAJ, the Department of Administration went first on Tuesday, March 28. The Department of Workforce Development and LIRC completed their agency briefings late on Thursday, March 30.

Legislative Developments

Water Skiing Bill Advances in Senate Committee (SB-69/AB-100). On March 23, members of the Senate Committee on Sporting Heritage, Mining and Forestry approved this bill by a 3-2 margin.

Bill Introduced to Require License Revocation after 4th OWI (SB-135). This legislation would require the Department of Transportation to revoke the driver’s license for any individual convicted of a 4th or more OWI offense (the bill also triggers revocation for 2 or more qualifying convictions. Qualifying convictions include certain felonies involving the use of a motor vehicle including homicide by intoxicated use). 

March 7, 2017

"Right to Try" Passes Assembly

On Tuesday, March 7, the Assembly passed AB-69. This legislation allows terminally ill patients to be prescribed so-called experimental treatments which have passed FDA safety (a/k/a 'Phase I') protocols, but which have not yet completed effectiveness trials. The bill includes an immunity provision for medical providers who prescribe, administer and otherwise make available the drugs or treatment covered by the bill. The bill was approved in the Assembly by an 85-13 margin. WAJ did not take a position on this legislation.

February 17 Update

The 2017-18 Legislative Session Begins

The 2017-18 Legislative Session began shortly after legislators were sworn into office. On January 5, the Governor called a special session to address the opioid crisis. The Executive Orders issued by the Governor requested that the legislature craft legislatation responding to the crisis and have also resulted in proposals now being considered along with the budget and other legislative matters. 

WAJ Lobbying Efforts

WAJ Leadership, along with Staff and our Lobbying team have begun the process of meeting with legislators and executive branch officials to kick-off the 2017-18 legislative session. The team has worked to align WAJ’s political and legislative efforts in ways which will improve both policy and electoral outcomes affecting civil justice.

If you have any questions, concerns or believe you have insight on a pending legislative issue, please contact myself or any member of the Executive Committee or Legislative Task Force.

Making Your Voice Heard in the Capitol and In Your Community

WAJ continues encouraging members, particularly those practicing outside of Madison and Milwaukee, to develop relationships with elected officials and legislators in their communities. It is important that we, as business owners and citizens, let these officials know that our law firms not only employ people in their districts but also make a positive difference in the lives of their constituents on a daily basis.

When it comes to specific legislation, it is important that WAJ speak with one voice. The Executive Committee and WAJ staff works hard to help members deliver the most effective message on issues affecting your practice. If you have questions about WAJ's position or strategy on specific issues, please contact myself or any member of the Executive Committee or Legislative Task Force.

WAJ’s political and electoral efforts must also be defined by unity and shared commitment. 

2017 is the year we must strengthen the Justice Fund. Your monthly and one-time contributions to the Justice Fund maximizes WAJ’s ability to support candidates who will protect Worker’s Compensation and the civil justice system and, most importantly, the right to a civil jury trial.  https://www.wisjustice.org/index.cfm?pg=JusticeFund

The Executive Budget Announced

Governor Proposes Eliminating LIRC — Impacting Worker’s Compensation and Equal Employment and UI Appeals

The Governor presented his budget proposal to the legislature with a 4:00PM address on February 8.  WAJ expected that the budget would include various provisions which could have an impact on civil justice.

Most of the proposals WAJ has been monitoring affected Worker’s Compensation. Weeks before the plan was announced, the WAJ Worker’s Compensation Committee already presented the administration with a joint letter from the Wisconsin Defense Counsel and the Wisconsin Association of Worker’s Compensation Attorneys opposing agency-developed plan to eliminate mandatory court reporters in Worker’s Compensation trials. WAJ continues to explore ways to preserve live court reporters for Worker’s Compensation trials.

The budget proposal included additional provisions impacting not only Worker’s Compensation, but all cases currently reviewed by the Labor and Industry Review Commission.

Below are the main provisions affecting Worker’s Compensation:

  • Eliminating LIRC. The Governor’s office estimates that this will save $3.2 million over the biennium. As it relates to Worker’s Compensation, the administrator of the Division of Hearings and Appeals within the Department of Administration will now provide a second-level review of Administrative Law Judge (ALJ opinions). For Unemployment and Equal Rights claims, the division administrators within the Department of Workforce Development will be tasked with carrying out the second-level review.
  • Worker’s Compensation: Completing shift from DWD to DOA. The last biennial budget moved Worker’s Compensation ALJs from DWD to the DOA. This budget proposes to finalize the worker's compensation transfer initiated in the 2015-17 biennial budget from the Department of Workforce Development to the Department of Administration by transferring staff and funding.
  • Eliminating Court Reporters in WC Hearings and Trials. The budget amends the statute requiring court reporters, Wis. Stat. § 102.15(3), in Worker’s Compensation trials to allow for digital recordings. This proposal is expected to reduce by 4 the number of court reporters employed by the Division. The proposal also eliminates the requirement that Department of Administration's Division of Hearings and Appeals provide printed or typewritten records for Chapter 227 cases, allowing for the submission of digital records. 
  • New Case Management System for Division of Hearings and Appeals The budget provides $240,000 for an improved scheduling and case management system. 

Judicial Council Targeted for Elimination

As in 2015, the Governor’s budget proposes eliminating all funding for the Judicial Council. The proposal allows the Court to re-constitute the body under its authority, and funding, if it so chooses.


Legislation Circulating

Self-Insurance for Religious Sects (AB-68/SB-39). This bill would allow religious sects, most notably the Amish, to self-insure. The bill proposes to amend the state’s financial responsibility statute, Wis. Stat. ch. 344 to allow these organizations to obtain a certificate of self-insurance from the state.

Eliminate Spotter Requirement for Water Skiing When Boat Features Wide-View, Rear-facing Mirror (now AB-100/SB-69). Legislators are currently seeking co-sponsors for legislation which would remove the requirement that an on-board observer or spotter be present when towing a water skier. The author of the bill models the language on Minnesota’s statute, first enacted in 1956. The bill was previously introduced as AB-256/SB-180 during the 2015-16 session. 

Tougher Drunk Driving Penalties. Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Ott (R-Mequon) is likely to introduce three bills aimed at toughening the penalties for drunk driving.

  • (Now AB-99/SB-72) Increasing the minimum sentence for 5th and 6th OWI from 6 months to 18 months.
  • (Now AB-98/SB-74) Subject OWI violators to penalties for driving without an interlock device from date of conviction, regardless of whether their license has been reinstated. Current law does not subject OWI offenders to a penalty for driving without an interlock device when they are caught driving with a suspended license.
  • (Now AB-97/SB-73) Establishing a 5-year minimum sentence for homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle. The bill allows for judicial discretion in cases in which the deceased person was a passenger in the automobile which the convicted person was driving, provided the judge gives a written reason for deviating from the minimum.

Immunity Provisions

As with previous legislative sessions, we expect to spend significant time examining and refining immunity provisions attached to proposed legislation.

The following bills contain immunity provisions affecting the following situations:

Narcan/Opioid Antagonist (now Special Sesssion AB-1). This bill provides an immunity provision for schools administering an opioid antagonist, most commonly known as Narcan. The bill adds Narcan to the list of drugs that school officials may administer, in the event of an overdose, without civil liability.

Epi-Pens (now AB-96). A bill is being circulated which will allow individuals to store and administer epi-pens after receiving training. The bill exempts the user from civil liability for administering an epi-pen to an individual believed to be experiencing anaphylaxis.

Experimental Drugs a/k/a “Right to Try” (now AB-69). This is a bipartisan effort, introduced in the 2015-16 session, which allows terminally ill patients the ability to try drugs which have passed FDA safety trials but which have not yet been deemed effective. Per the Legislative Reference Bureau: “The bill provides a limitation of liability under state law for a manufacturer, distributor, pharmacist, physician or other practitioner, or other person who makes available, delivers, distributes, prescribes, dispenses, or administers an investigational drug, device, or biological product to an eligible patient consistent with the bill's provisions, and who in doing so exercises reasonable care.”


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