By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican Gov. Scott Walker scored more victories Thursday, signing a major lawsuit reform bill into law and watching as the Legislature approved a tax cut for businesses that he says will create new jobs.
Passage of that bill in the Senate on a bipartisan 25-8 vote, after it previously cleared the Assembly, marked the fifth piece of Walker’s legislative agenda to clear the Republican-controlled Legislature in his first month in office.
Walker had promised swift action to show that Wisconsin, in his words, is “open for business.” Even though most of his measures have received some support from Democrats, critics argue they are largely symbolic and will do little to actually create jobs or improve the state’s economy.
Senate Democrats said the latest tax cut measure, expected to cost the state $67 million over two years, was too expensive given the projected $3 billion shortfall in the two-year budget. They also said the tax bill, which would give businesses deductions worth $92 to $316 per job, wouldn’t be enough by itself to get businesses to hire more people.
“It makes no difference, who cares? It’s about marketing the state,” said Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Conover.
That bill is the third tax cut the Legislature has passed this month. Walker has already signed into law a measure that eliminates income taxes on contributions made to health savings accounts. Another bill awaiting his signature would eliminate corporate and personal income taxes on companies that relocate to Wisconsin.
The lawsuit reform bill Walker signed Thursday was the subject of intense lobbying from special interests who argued it would make it much more difficult for consumers to successfully sue and collect damages from businesses. But the business community backed the measure, taking up Walker’s mantra that the changes will make the state a friendlier place to do business.
Unlike the tax cut bills, the lawsuit reform measure garnered no support from Democrats in the Legislature.
The new law, which takes effect within days, would:
— Require a plaintiff prove a defendant manufactured, distributed or promoted the specific product that harmed him or her.
— Cap punitive damages at $200,000 or twice the amount of compensatory damages. Punitive damages are designed to punish a defendant; compensatory damages cover a plaintiff’s actual losses. No limit on punitive damages currently exists.
— Cap compensation for pain and suffering if a loved one dies due to negligent care in a nursing home or other long-term care facility.
— Enact a ban on using health care provider evaluations in civil or criminal actions against any provider.
Passage of the bills will give Walker something to crow about during his first State of the State speech on Tuesday. Some of his other priorities, including reorganizing the Commerce Department into a public-private hybrid and requiring a two-thirds majority vote to pass sales and income tax increases, also were moving through the Legislature.