Time is running out in this legislative session for a bill that would change Wisconsin’s contractor liability law.
Subcontractors vow to keep pushing for passage, but the bill is trapped in a Senate committee and has a dwindling chance of escaping before the session ends April 22.
“We’ve reached out for other ideas, and we didn’t get a whole lot of thought for 25 years,” said Jeffrey Beiriger, executive director of the American Subcontractors Association of Wisconsin, referring to the period the current law has been on the books. “And until this piece of legislation runs out of time, we’re committed to making it work.”
At the request of ASA, state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, introduced earlier this year a bill that would void provisions in construction contracts requiring one company protect or insure another company on a project.
Under state law, project owners and general contractors can pass their share of liability on a construction project to subcontractors. Major subcontractors, such as mechanical contractors, also can pass on liability to other subcontractors, such as insulation contractors.
A Senate committee last week held a public hearing on the bill during which groups including the Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Builders Association and the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association testified or registered in opposition.
Taylor on Sunday said she does not know if she will hold a committee vote to send the bill to the Senate floor before session ends.
“I introduce bills because I believe there’s something that needs to get done, and we need to do whatever we can do to make that happen,” she said. “But there’s so many moving pieces right now.”
Taylor said she wants general contractors and subcontractors to reach a compromise before the bill leaves committee.
But Jim Boullion, the AGC’s director of government affairs, said that will not happen in the next month.
“It’s going to take us at least the summer to get somewhere,” he said.
The AGC offered the ASA a compromise, Boullion said, but it was rejected. He would not offer details of the compromise.
Eliminating contractors’ ability to transfer liability could result in lengthy trials and more expensive legal costs, said Brad Boycks, director of government and political affairs for the Wisconsin Builders Association.
“We see that there are some differences of opinion,” he said. “We admit the law is not perfect right now, but this bill doesn’t solve all the problems.”
Beiriger said he’s not surprised some groups want more time to work on the bill, and he is willing to work on it in the next session if time runs out on this one. But he said the bill should pass soon.
“It’s simply a matter of fairness,” he said.
If the Legislature passes the bill as drafted, Boullion said, lawmakers would do so with strong objections from many people in the construction industry.
“Legislators are always looking for compromise,” he said, “and we’re more than willing to try talking things through.”