Legislative Update

WDC Journal Edition: December 2001
By: Jim Hough & Amy Boyer

The 2001-02 Wisconsin Legislature completed its Fall Floor period in early November and will not return for regular business until January 22, 2002. The 2001-02 Legislative session is scheduled to be completed by mid-March, 2002. Not unlike all of the United States, the Wisconsin Legislature has been focused on examining necessary and appropriate legislative responses to the events of September 11. Additionally, the State of Wisconsin is expected to face a deficit estimated at between $300 million and $1.3 billion. Further, the Legislature is required to draw new boundaries for Senate, Assembly and Congressional (Wisconsin loses one seat) districts based on the 2000 census and the court mandated "one person-one vote" application.

The above factors and the fact that legislative control is divided between the two parties, means that changes, particularly controversial changes to the civil justice system, are unlikely to occur. There has, however, been some activity:

  • Cost of medical records - Senate Bill 71, aimed at assuring "reasonable cost" of health care records passed the Assembly with the support of CTCW, WATL, the State Bar and the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance. The provisions embodied in SB 71 were adopted by both Houses as part of the Conference Committee Budget, but vetoed by the Governor. Efforts are under way to seek concurrence in the Assembly during the 2002 floor period.
  • Loss of society and companionship in medical malpractice cases - Senate Bill 193 would expand those eligible to recover for loss of society and companionship (in medical malpractice cases only) to adult children and their parents. The bill passed the Democrat-controlled Senate on a vote of 17-15 after an amendment to limit the expansion to adult children who are disabled and under the care of their parents was defeated. We remain optimistic that the bill will not pass the Assembly.
  • Compulsory counterclaims in civil actions - Senate Bill 198 was introduced on March 13 and has not, as yet, had a public hearing, but there is some pressure being applied to move the bill. The proposal raises some serious issues for defense lawyers regarding legal and ethical obligations and conflicts within the tripartite relationship. Further, it seems designed to solve a problem that doesn't really exist.
  • Compensatory and punitive damages in fair employment cases - Senate Bill 232 appears to mandate the award of compensatory damages, by a hearing examiner, in discrimination cases. The bill was recommended by a Senate Committee on a 3-2 vote and has been referred to the Joint Committee on Finance to determine the fiscal impact on the state. Punitive damages are not defined as they are elsewhere in the statutes and there are no protections for judicial proceedings.