The Senate voted 18-15 to allow those suing the state to pick which county they want to file the complaint rather than having to go through the Dane County courts as now required.
Dems complained the legislation was crafted in retaliation against Dane County following this year’s court battle over the guv’s collective bargaining changes, would impose new expenses on local governments and encourage judge shopping.
Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Conover, said he supported the general idea behind the bill because he represents a largely rural area in northern Wisconsin and believed his constituents shouldn’t have to drive to Madison to file a suit. But he offered an amendment that would allow those suing the state to file either in Dane County or their county of residence.
He said allowing litigants to go to any county of their choosing raised suspicions.
“It kind o challenges common sense to say that litigants can choose any of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. That seems to promote judge shopping and kind of playing games with Wisconsin’s judicial system,” said Holperin, the only Dem to join Republicans in favor of the bill on final passage.
The amendment was tabled 17-16.
Co-author Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, complained Dane County has a monopoly over suits filed against the state and its employees. She argued the legislation would create more access to the courts and rejected Holperin’s amendment as too restrictive.
The legislation would also allow the appellants in such cases to pick which appeals court hears the appeal. The appeals court selected could not cover the district that includes the county where the case originated.
Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, also rejected Dem arguments about the legislation, saying they misunderstood its intent, complaining it never made sense to require all suits to be filed in Dane County. That’s particularly true if it’s a dispute over the Department of Natural Resources, for example, declaring a piece of property outstate a wetland and then having to litigate that disagreement miles away in Dane County.
“This is being an advocate for you constituents,” Fitzgerald said. “This is telling your constituents out state that you don’t have to drive to Madison to file a suit.”