Moral of This Story? Read Your Wisconsin Lawyer!
Representative Tusler testifying before the Assembly Judiciary Committee on 2017 AB 519 holding the December 2016 issue of Wisconsin Lawyer.
We've all seen the Schoolhouse Rock episode of how a bill becomes a law. But what happened before that bill was introduced? Who had the idea to draft that bill? More importantly, what was the issue that bill sought to address? I may not have a vintage cartoon or comic for you to enjoy, but just like in Schoolhouse Rock, 2019 Wis. Act 29 has its own story, a story that started right here with the Wisconsin Lawyer™ magazine.
In 2016, before I was even a state legislator, I was reading the December 2016issue of Wisconsin Lawyer. In that issue I read an article, “Top 9 Recent Wisconsin Supreme Court Decisions” by Lisa Lawless, that discussed Sorenson v. Batchelder, 2016 WI 34 (May 12, 2016). In that case, Cheryl Sorenson was injured in a car accident caused by a state employee, Richard Batchelder. Per Wis. Stat. section 893.82(2m), "[n]o claimant may bring an action against a state officer, employee or agent unless the claimant complies strictly with the requirements of this section.”
Sorenson's lawyer personally served her notice of claim, not realizing the statute only permitted service by certified mail. The state moved to dismiss the claim because of improper service, which the circuit court denied. The court of appeals reversed the decision and the case found itself in front of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In a majority decision (5-2), the supreme court held that the plain language of the statute only permitted service by certified mail and ignoring the statute would lead to uncertainty and case-by-case determinations.
I was struck by the injustice. The point of the notice of claims statute is to put the government on notice of the claim. Of course, the government knew of the claim if it was actually served. Upon investigation, it turned out that, because of State Capitol mail procedures and relocation of the Attorney General's primary office across the street from the Capitol, service by certified mail was next to impossible, if not impossible, to satisfy.
I originally introduced a bill to correct this injustice in 2017 (2017 AB 519/SB 433). But like the unfortunate bills standing in line behind the velvet rope in Schoolhouse Rock, neither chamber's version of the bill made it to the Governor’s desk. This session, I introduced 2019 AB 58. This time the bill would have better luck and would be signed into law just weeks ago as 2019 Wis. Act 29.
Act 29 allows personal service in addition to certified mail and allows service at the Department of Justice, not just in the Attorney General's Capitol office, which is now mostly used for ceremonial purposes.
I would be remiss if I did not thank Attorney Jason Abraham, the attorney of record in Batchelder, for his help and time coming to the Capitol to testify in support of this bill and the State Bar's Litigation Section for its support getting this bill signed into law.
What started out as "just a bill" (or in the non-Schoolhouse Rock real-life version, a Wisconsin Lawyer article) finally found its way to the Governor's desk and became a law!
The moral of this story? Our legislators in Madison and Washington, D.C., do indeed listen to their constituents and it is possible for the public to have a direct impact in their community, state, and nation. You can find out who your legislators are and how to contact them by visiting the Legislature's website, https://legis.wisconsin.gov/.
And the other moral of the story? Read your Wisconsin Lawyer! You never know what you'll learn or how you might end up benefiting your clients or your community.
State Representative Ron Tusler
3rd District, Wisconsin State Assembly
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