On a straight party-line vote of 19-14, the Senate on Tuesday approved Governor Walker’s special session legislation directed at tort reform.
Senate Majority leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) says the bill will help create a business-friendly legal environment and ease fears about frivolous lawsuits. He says the move will send a signal to employers that Wisconsin is going to be competitive.
The proposal faced stiff criticism from Democrats though, with 19 amendments to the bill struck down during the debate.
State Senator Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) was among lawmakers who raised concerns about caps on punitive damages, restrictions on expert witness testimony, and new protections for product liability. Jauch called it an “unjust, unfair proposal” that will harm people who were victims through no fault of their own.
A portion of the bill that keeps state regulatory and incident reports at medical facilities from being used as evidence also drew fire. An emotional State Senator Julie Lassa (D-Steven Point) says it would make it easier to conceal negligence that harms innocent people and does nothing to actually create jobs.
The bill allows those reports to be kept confidential in order to encourage peer review between providers. Democrats say it will prevent even District Attorneys from having access to the information when trying to determine if a crime has been committed when someone is injured or killed at a nursing home.
Lawmakers did adopt an amendments aimed at fixing earlier concerns that the bill would protect drunk drivers involved in accidents from being sued.
State Senator Fred Risser (D-Madison) described the bill as an example of “legislative malpractice” that will do nothing to create jobs.
The legislation now heads to the state Assembly, which also has its own version of the measure to consider.