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


November 18, 2017

WAJ-backed legislation to crack down on distracted driving took a small step forward today

Since this session began, WAJ has worked with a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Reps. Ron Tusler (R-Harrison) Dana Wachs (D-Eau Claire) (both WAJ members) and Shannon Zimmerman (R-River Falls) in the Assembly and Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) to pass legislation aimed at giving the state additional tools to crack down on the scourge that is distracted driving. 

The bill, introduced in June, updates Wisconsin’s so-called texting and driving ban to properly regulate the use of smartphones while driving. Specifically, the bill increases the penalties to more closely match neighboring states (setting them from between $100 and $400) and updating the language to apply handheld use of apps, the internet and other features of smartphone devices. This morning, members of the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety approved the bill on a bipartisan basis, 6-3.

The proliferation of affordable technology has made is easier than ever to be plugged in applications that take our eyes of the road and our hands off the wheel. Beyond medical and law enforcement professionals, there are few groups in the state whose membership sees first-hand what happens when this distraction leads to injured people. While it cannot and need not be proven in most cases, the use of smart phones is believed to be linked to the historic rises in auto fatalities. Wisconsin, as you all know, is not immune from that trend. We may even face greater danger due to our large deer population and our wonderful winters.

Ultimately, technology may provide a solution to many of these problems first by equipping vehicles with safety and crash avoidance systems and, eventually, by handling the driving entirely.

Until that day arrives, crashes continue to be on the rise. WAJ has taken this opportunity to take a proactive role in the legislative process by identifying shortcomings in the law and proposing solutions. We have put forward changes we believe give law enforcement as well as driving safety educators additional points of emphasis as we all seek to crack down on smartphone use while driving.

WAJ President Benjamin Wagner and President-Elect Heath Straka have played a leading role in advocating for this bill with legislators, the lobbying community, and the media. We will continue working to see this bill through.

As you may know, there is a short legislative calendar in anticipation of the 2018 elections. We hope that this bill can be among those approved by both chambers and sent to the Governor before the campaign begins in earnest. We have always sought to position this bill and our advocacy outside the realm of partisan politics. While we remain cautious, we are optimistic there is time for this bill to be on the agenda.

September 20, 2017

New Budget: Small Changes to Worker’s Compensation Provisions; Judicial Council Funding Eliminated

On September 20th, the Governor announced the completion of the 2017-19 Budget process by issuing his veto message and signing the legislation into law.

Governor Vetoes Worker’s Compensation Studies. The Governor vetoed two studies that were added into the bill by the Joint Finance Committee. Both studies would have gathered data on the Worker’s Compensation system. The first would have mandated a study by the Supreme Court on the functioning of the Labor and Industry Review Commission (to assess its compliance with the law). The second directed the Department of Workforce Development to study the use of recording equipment in Worker’s Compensation hearings and appeals. Read the Governor’s veto message here [page 6, number 23; page 12 number 49].

Governor Vetoes Judicial Council Funding. As with past budget cycles, the administration proposed eliminating the Judicial Council as part of its budget submission. The Council and its funding was restored as part of the Joint Finance Committee’s budget-writing process. The Governor’s veto eliminated the funding to support the Council’s sole employee. The statutory authority for the Council, Wis. Stat. § 20.670, remains in effect. Read the Governor’s veto message here [page 3, number 11].

The Governor’s veto came on the heels of an August 17th order from the Supreme Court ceasing distribution of funds from the Court’s discretionary funding to support the Council. 

May 19, 2017

JFC Update: Worker's Compensation On the Agenda

LIRC Language Removed Court 

On May 18th, the Joint Finance Committee voted to remove provisions from the budget that would have eliminated the Labor and Industry Review Commission. The Committee voted 12-4 in favor of an option presented by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau which eliminated unfilled staff positions but otherwise preserves the agency intact. 

JFC Saves Court Reporters in WC Proceedings 

This week, the Joint Finance Committee voted to eliminate the budget language affecting court reporters in Worker’s Compensation Cases. The Governor’s Budget submission, drafted legislatively as AB-64, had proposed eliminating the requirement under Wis. Stat. § 102.15(3) that Worker’s Compensation hearings and “trials” be documented by a live stenographic court reporter. The proposal intended to spur adoption of electronic recordings for some proceedings; eliminated some court reporter staff positions; and was paired with an intent to shift some reporters’ duties to transcribing recordings.

WAJ and other interested parties, including the Wisconsin Defense Counsel, met with the Legislative Fiscal Bureau in April. The lobbying group provided LFB staff with detailed information on how this proposal would have negative impacts on the administration of Worker’s Compensation claims. The LFB released their findings and recommendations a week before the JFC set out to vote on the proposal. The professional staff of the LFB included several pieces of information in its final paper and sought to address concerns raised by practitioners. Ultimately, the LFB presented four options for the JFC to consider.

On Tuesday May 16, 2017, the Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 in favor of LFB option number three, which preserves the statutory requirement for live court reporters, but also launches a study on the impact of implementing audio recordings in Worker’s Compensation proceedings. Importantly, the option favored by the committee presents the study findings to the Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council. The JFC members voting no all did so as a means of expressing their support for preserving the status quo.

UPDATE: the study was vetoed in September. See above. 

JFC Votes to Preserve Independent Judicial Council Funding

Among the first actions taken by the Joint Finance Committee (on May 1) was to remove from the Budget the Governor’s proposed elimination of the Judicial Council. The JFC also voted down a proposal to move the Judicial Commission under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

UPDATE: the funding, but not the Council's authority, was vetoed by the Governor. See above. 

Assembly Committee Holds Hearing on Bill to Alter WCAC

WAJ to Testify Against Legislation to Alter Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council (WCAC). A hearing is scheduled on May 18 to consider 2017 AB-308. This bill, if enacted, would prevent the organized labor from naming members to more than two seats on the Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council. Since the Council’s inception, the has selected the individuals representing the five employee seats on the Council. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce names the other five individuals who represent employers. In addition, there are three non-voting Representatives of Worker’s Compensation insurance carriers.

The purpose of the WCAC is to make reasoned changes to Wisconsin’s nationally leading Worker’s Compensation system. Since its inception, the 5-5 split has led to real compromise and delivered fantastic results to Wisconsin employers and employees alike.

WAJ opposes this bill and intends to testify against it at Thursday’s hearing.

UPDATE: Aaron Halstead and Luke Kingree represented WAJ at the hearing. 

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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