Feb. 7, 2022 – One of the unique benefits of the governing structure of the State Bar is the ability for practice sections to advocate and lobby for policy changes in the state legislature. The State Bar’s Board of Governors sets the priorities for the profession on issues such as funding and fairness in the justice system, while the State Bar’s lobbying sections focus on their specific areas of law. The State Bar has 13 total sections that fully participate in the lobbying program. Joining a lobbying section, like all section membership, is completely voluntary and they all have separate volunteer elected boards. Lynne Davis, Government Relations Coordinator at the State Bar, detailed the mechanics of the lobbying program in a
Rotunda Report Live video. In this first part of a series of Rotunda Report articles, we will examine the work of a few of the State Bar’s most active lobbying sections.
Proactive and Reactive Section Lobbying
Section lobbying boards typically do a mix of lobbying. Many boards, either through their own experience or through input from section members, proactively review and suggest policy changes that would assist or clarify the law in their practice area. Often sections engage in the review of Uniform Laws at the request of the
Wisconsin Uniform Law Commissioners or they take on the modernization or improvement of a statue themselves. Sections will often form drafting committees and work with legislative authors and the Legislative Reference Bureau on detailed and often lengthy reviews of proposals.
Cale Battles, is a government relations coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. He can be reached by
email, or by phone at (608) 250-6077.
Lynne Davis, is a government relations coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. She can be reached by email, or by phone at (608) 852-3603.
The sections also can vote to take reactive positions to support, oppose or actively monitor legislation that is pending in the legislature. The goal of engagement by sections is to positively impact the process and assist those that might be unfamiliar with the law by explaining the potential impacts of a particular policy decision. These discussions often lead to very positive outcomes either through legislative support and partnerships or by assisting in the drafting of amendments to improve legislation. There are also occasions when sections won’t find common ground and will oppose legislative efforts.
A great example of a section taking and reviewing a complicated and very long uniform law is the work of the Business Law Section Board’s Business Entities committee.
Senate Bill 566 and
Assembly Bill 566, introduced by Senator Eric Wimberger (R-Green Bay) and Representative Ron Tusler (R-Harrison) is the product of years of review of two uniform laws to streamline, modernize and bring into uniformity five chapters of business entity law. Both SB 566 and AB 566 received unanimous committee support and now await final passage by both houses. The Business Law has advocated on passage in conjunction with the Wisconsin Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
Children & the Law
After passing major guardianship expansion under Chapter 48 in 2020 (Act 109), Children and the Law Section members turned their attention toward adoption and child welfare legislative proposals this session, showing legislators the valuable input State Bar sections can provide. The board actively engaged in discussions with bill sponsors about the current adoption and TPR processes in WI, proposing amendments to
Assembly Bill 626,
Assembly Bill 628/Senate Bill 599 and
Assembly Bill 629/Senate Bill 686. In addition, the Section supported measures modifying the process in which subsidized guardianship payments are made (Assembly Bill 503/Senate Bill 491) and an initiative creating a duty to participate in an appeal of a TPR (Senate Bill 601/Assembly bill 632). The section also testified before Senate and Assembly Committees expressing significant concerns with
Assembly Bill 502/Senate Bill 483, granting adult adoptees unrestricted access to unaltered birth records, as well as opposed
Senate Bill 402/Assembly Bill 412, creating a foster parent bill of rights.
Criminal Law continued to work on legislation expanding criminal offenses by voicing concerns with
Assembly Bill 829/Senate Bill 850, imposing a mandatory minimum sentence on anyone convicted of retail theft with two prior convictions. The section also provided feedback to a number of legislators exploring legislation impacting criminal sentencing and the creation of new crimes. Their input was well-received and their feedback was either incorporated into the proposals or legislation was not introduced based on the advice from section members.
Summary of Legislative Bills of Interest Being Considered by Legislature
Currently there are hundreds of legislative proposals moving through the legislative process. Below is a short summary of proposals from the Legislative Reference Bureau Bill Analysis that might be of interest to State Bar members. These proposals have been acted on by either the State Bar’s Board of Governors or by one of the Bar’s 13 active lobbying practice sections.
Assembly Bill 69 - expungement of records of certain crimes and discrimination based on expunged conviction. (State Bar supports)
Senate Bill 245 – protecting children who are victims of sex trafficking from being prosecuted for prostitution (Children and the Law supports)
Assembly Bill 180 - status as an indefinitely confined voter for purposes of receiving absentee ballots automatically and providing a penalty (Civil Rights & Liberties opposes)
Law Enforcement Reform: The State Bar supports legislative efforts to address racial injustice and improve the justice system, including through policing reforms and citizen engagement with law enforcement. Senate Bills 120, 122, 123, and 124 were signed into law by Gov. Evers as Acts
51, respectively. Of the Speaker’s Task Force on Racial Disparity’s package of reforms, the State Bar is supporting
Assembly Bills 329-334. Those bills were passed by that chamber on June 16, and have all been referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, as were their companion bills, Senate Bills 470-476. They each received a public hearing on October 28, 2021.
The legislature will wrap up the 2021-22 with session possible floor periods in February from the 15th through the 24th and will finish up the session with a final floor period in March from the 8th to the 10th.