As an advocate for the legal rights of all Wisconsin citizens, the Wisconsin Association for Justice works with the state legislature and other governmental bodies to preserve our civil justice system and ensure everyone has the ability to seek justice - even when taking on the most powerful wrongdoers.
WAJ will lobby legislators on the following bills, giving a strong voice to Wisconsin consumers. If you would like to help, please contact your area legislators and make sure they join the Wisconsin Association for Justice in standing with Wisconsin consumers. Here the link to contact your legislators.
In February after Governor Walker introduced his budget, there was a great of emphasis on the $2 billion budget deficit. To balance the budget, numerous budget cuts (UW System, K-12 education and Senior Care) and agency shuffles (combining agencies and moving removing functions) were recommended. One agency "shuffle" involves the Division of Workers Compensation.
The Division of Workers Compensation is housed at the Department of Workforce Development (DWD). Nationally known as one of the best in the country, Governor Walker wants to split up a single agency moving part of the agency that handles claims and insurance to the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance. The Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) will be moved to the Division of Hearings and Appeals in the Department of Administration (DOA).
There are seven steps in the State Budget process after the Governor introduces his bill.
Step 1: Legislative Fiscal Bureau analyzes budget and produces a written summary (February)
Step 2: Joint Finance Committee (JFC) holds agency briefings (March)
Step 3: JFC holds statewide hearings (March)
Step 4: JFC takes executive action on budget (April-May)
Step 5: Senate (or Assembly) takes up JFC version of budget and passes (First week in June)
Step 6: Other house takes up budget bill and passes (2nd week in June)
Step 7: Governor gets bill and signs with possible item vetoes (end of June)
The first three steps are now complete and #4 started in April with the JFC beginning to vote on all the separate provisions in the Governor's budget. For all practical purposes Step 4 is the only step left that really counts. Very few changes are made once the bill gets to the two houses. Most things get worked out before the bill leaves the JFC.
When budget items are taken up, the agenda will include a separate "budget paper," which will include a description of the Governor's proposal, an analysis of it by Fiscal Bureau staff, and then several options for the committee to consider.
Prior to the open JFC meeting the GOP members of the committee will be meeting with leadership to decide what options to accept on each budget paper. These are all closed meetings. That decision is what then gets approved when JFC meets in open session. Generally all GOP members will vote for that agreed upon alternative.
Where Do We Stand Today?
Thanks, at least in part, to our lobbying and public relations efforts, JFC made significant changes in the Governor's original proposal to break up the WC system.
WC will remain its own program in the Department of Workforce Development (DWD). 18 of the 25 Administrative Law Judges (ALJ's) will move to the Department of Administration, but at least 80% of their work will remain WC cases. Seven ALJ's and additional staff will remain with DWD to oversee the administrative functions of the department.
We were able to convince the JFC that WC is not an insurance program in spite of last minute lobbying from the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance.
The Budget has been stalled so the official language has not been available to review.
Other Items WAJ is Monitoring
AB-92: Introduced on 3/12/2015; the bill raises the penalties for violating Wisconsin's financial responsibility law. It also includes a provision entitled, "No Pay, No Play," which does not allow uninsured drivers to recover noneconomic damages if they are injured in an auto accident. Referred to Assembly Judiciary Committee.
AB-95: Introduced 3/12/2015; increased the interest rate on small claims actions to 12 percent. Referred to Assembly Judiciary Committee. Public Hearing held on 4/7/2015.
AB-139: Introduced 3/27/2015; raises the fees on small claims from $22 to $50. Referred to Assembly Judiciary Committee. Public hearing held on 4/30/2015.
AB-143: Introduced 3/31/2015; Regulation of transportation network companies, including requirements for drivers to carry insurance at specific levels. Legislation passed both houses and was signed by the Governor on 5/1/2015 as 2015 Wisconsin Act 16.
AB-157/SB-110: Introduced 4/8/2015; Exemption from civil liability related to the placement of buoys or other markers in waterways. Referred to Assembly Committee on Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage and Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety. The Senate Committee held a public hearing on 6-2-15. They voted 3-2, recommending the bill for passage, with a simple amendment on 6-4-15. The full Senate took up the bill and passed it 6-9-15 by a voice vote. The Assembly Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage held a public hearing on 5-27-15. They exec'd the bill on 6-10-15, 10-5 as amended.
AB-179/SB-125: Introduced 4/20/2015; Access to investigational drugs, devices and biological products and limitations on liability related to their use. Referred to Assembly Committee on Health and Senate Committee on Health and Humans Services.
AB-169/SB-126: Introduced 4/20/2015; immunity from civil liability for certain equine activities. Referred to Assembly Judiciary Committee and Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety. The Senate Committee held a public hearing on 6-2-15. It recommended the bill for passage by a 3-2 vote on 6-4-15. The full Senate took up the bill and passed it 6-9-15 by a voice vote.
AB-174/SB-131: Introduced on 4/20/2015; immunity of private campgrounds. Referred to Assembly Judiciary Committee and Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety. The Senate Committee held a public hearing on 6-2-15. on 6-4-15, they exec'd the bill with a simple amendment by a 3-2 vote.
In the past legislative session, several bills were introduced that affected the civil justice system. To check what bills WAJ lobbied on, check the Government Accountability Board's website, which lists the bills.
Governor Walker's Attacks on Consumer Rights, 2011-2012
2011-12 Session Highlights
2013-2014 Session Highlight