The Senate has passed legislation to reform Wisconsin tort laws on a party-line 19-14 vote, with all the Senate Dems voting no.
The bill is the first piece of legislation in Gov. Scott Walker's special session on the economy to pass either house of the Legislature.
Republicans said the changes will improve the job creation climate in the state, but Dems say there's no proof it will create any jobs and will only make it more difficult for victims of faulty products or other negligence to recover damages.
Walker said in a statement that Senate passage sends a message that Wisconsin is creating "a job friendly legal environment."
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a press release the bill allows businesses to focus on job creation instead of "frivolous claims and tort lawsuits."
"We want to help Wisconsin’s businesses grow and look forward, instead of always having to look over their shoulder," Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said. "I think the last few years have proved we can’t sue our way into prosperity. And no amount of the Democrats’ talking points and political games will change that."
An amendment from Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, was adopted to modify the criteria that must be met in order for a plaintiff to hold a party responsible for damages.
The amendment also stipulates that the law will take effect 10 days after it is signed by the governor. The amendment passed 19-14. See a Legislative Council memo describing the amendment here.
Democrats offered 19 amendments to the bill, among them an amendment calling for an audit of the law and its impact on courts and prosecutors after six months, amendments to maintain current transparency standards for records filed with the Department of Health Services and Department of Licensing and Regulation, and allowing police officers, sexual assault nurses and social workers who work with sexual assault victims to testify as experts in court cases. All the Dem amendments were denied.
Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller said in a statement, “Under the guise of ‘jobs’ and ‘business climate’ the Senate Republicans voted to approve changes to state law that create no jobs but could result in great harm to our seniors, families and the ability of law enforcement to keep our streets safe. By voting to defeat amendments to specifically fix these flaws, we can only conclude that’s what they want to do.”