Within seconds of Gov. Scott Walker’s lawsuit reform passing in the Senate on Tuesday, the governor’s office issued a statement saying the bill sent a message that Wisconsin is – what else? – “open for business.”
State Democrats, though, aren’t quite as ready to hang the open sign – which Walker literally did Tuesday. As the governor spent the day unveiling billboards along Wisconsin’s borders with Illinois and Minnesota, the state’s minority party wondered aloud how tort reform would accomplish Walker’s No. 1-stated goal of creating new jobs.
Noting the Legislature is in the midst of a special session intended to pass jobs-related bills, Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said the debate over tort reform legislation – which would make it harder for people to sue businesses over negligence or malpractice – was an odd way to kick off the new legislative year.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with jobs, but it’s nice to be here anyhow,” Erpenbach said.
Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, went further. “This bill does not have anything to do with job creation in the great state of Wisconsin,” Lassa said. “So, let’s talk about what this bill actually does.”
With tears in her eyes, Lassa made an impassioned plea to lawmakers to reject tort reform. The bill, Lassa said, would have made it nearly impossible to prosecute a recent case in which a 7-year-old girl was strangled. Lassa held up a photo of the girl and then slammed it on her desk on the floor of the Senate.
Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, called the legislation “an example of legislative malpractice if there ever was one.” Risser added the legislation was a “payback” for insurance companies and hospital associations.
Walker is receiving similar criticism over another proposed bill that, in part, would increase state regulations for wind farms and make it more difficult to build them. Democrats and environmentalists say that debate – like tort reform – is unrelated to job creation and has no place in the special session.
When asked how wind farm regulation is related to jobs, Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said “this legislation will protect the private property rights for all Wisconsin citizens.”
Walker has proposed several bills geared toward job creation, but they have yet to reach the Senate or Assembly floor. Democrats, angered that Republicans are using the special session for unrelated items, are saying: “Show us the jobs.”
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