April 22, 2014 – The Senate spent the majority of April 1, its last day on the floor, putting the finishing touches on the legislative session, and adjourning the 2013-14 session until January 2015. The Assembly adjourned much earlier on March 20, which left the Senate in the difficult position of only having the ability to agree or concur with legislation that was passed previously by the Assembly.
Medical Apology and Strip Search Legislation Passes
Two of the more controversial pieces of legislation that passed the Senate on the last day dealt with medical apologies and strip searches.
The State Bar of Wisconsin’s Litigation Section opposed legislation that would restrict the ability of attorneys to use statements of apology or contrition as evidence in medical malpractice lawsuits and proceedings. The equally balanced plaintiff and defense board of the Litigation Section expressed concern that the drafted language was overly broad and should be amended to narrow the intent of the legislation. The Senate passed the final version by a vote of 19 to 14, with two Democrats joining the majority and one Republican voting against. This bill has been signed into law; it is now Act 242.
Legislation expanding the ability of law enforcement officials to strip search individuals in custody also passed the Senate along party lines. The proposal gives law enforcement the ability to strip search anyone who may be incarcerated, imprisoned, or otherwise detained in the jail or prison with one or more persons for 12 or more hours. A recent WisBar InsideTrack article, “Bill Expands Preconviction Strip Search Authority in Wisconsin Jails,” provides an in-depth explanation of this particular bill.
Some of the other high-profile legislation passed over the last few weeks included legislation restricting information used by drones, requiring outside investigations for police officer involved deaths, allowing cannabis oil use as treatment for children dealing with seizures, and a series of bills dealing with the heroin epidemic.
In addition, a bill that prohibits employers, educational institutions or landlords from requesting that current or prospective employees, students, or tenants give them access to personal Internet accounts took effect today.
Learn more about the Social Media Protection Act in “Social Media Snooping: Bill Limits Access to Personal Internet Accounts,” an InsideTrack article.
Speed Limit, OWI and Interest Rates Legislation Fail
Wisconsin residents will need to continue to set their cruise control to 65 mph as legislation to increase the rural interstate speed limit to 70 mph failed to pass.
The Assembly passed a package of Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) bills that would create various changes, only to not be considered by the Senate.
Interest rates on small claims judgment will also remain the same. Legislation proposed to return a flat 12 percent rate for small claims judgments failed to make it out of committee after passing the Assembly by a voice vote.
Legislative Turnover Expected and Busy 2015-16 Session
Twenty-one Assembly members have indicated that they will not seek reelection to the Assembly. In the Senate, six members will not seek reelection, including four of the longer serving members: Mike Ellis (R-Neenah), Bob Jauch (D-Poplar), Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) and Tim Cullen (D-Janesville). Currently, Republicans in the Assembly have a 60-39 majority, while the Senate is much closer, with Republicans having an 18-15 majority.
The State Bar will continue to work on a number of important legislative initiatives during the summer and fall in anticipation of a busy 2015-16 session. Funding of the judicial system will be a major state budget priority, along with continued work on returning first-time, non-violent 17-year-old offenders to the juvenile justice system.
The State Bar will also be asking legislators to consider a constitutional amendment to create a single 16-year term for Wisconsin Supreme Court justices. See a recent Wisconsin Lawyer article, “A Conversation on Supreme Court Term Limits,” outlines the contours of this proposal.
Cale Battles is a government relations coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. He can be reached at org cbattles wisbar wisbar cbattles org, or by phone at (608) 250-6077.
State Bar sections will also be very active next session with a number of important proactive legislative proposals, including revising the Business Partnership Act, revising the Limited Liability Corporation Act, adult and juvenile guardianship reform, asset preservation trusts, adoption reforms, and the Judicial Council proposal to rewrite the Criminal Procedure Code.