It was almost as if Rodney King had returned from the grave to testify before the Wisconsin Assembly’s Judiciary Committee.
But instead of the late King’s famous question – “Can’t we all just get along?” – the thoughts of state Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, came out as a declaration: “We’ve got to get along.”
Wachs was expressing frustration after it had become apparent Republicans on the committee were likely to vote down both of the amendments he had proposed to tort-reform bills being considered that day. The second of those amendments was so great a compromise that it left nine-tenths of the original proposal intact, contended Wachs’ Democratic colleague, state Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee.
Not so, said the Republicans. Wachs’ proposal, they said, would completely undermine the legislation’s purpose.
The bill, Assembly Bill 139, has to do with the state’s informed-consent law. As now interpreted by the courts, the law requires doctors to tell patients of alternative treatments and diagnostic tests that a reasonable patient could be expected to want to know about.
Assembly Bill 139 would exclude diagnostic tests from that requirement. Wachs, through his amendment, was trying to have them restored.
In offering it, Wachs pointed out that he was leaving in the bill another huge change from current practice: a proposal to switch from the state’s “reasonable-patient” standard to a “reasonable-doctor” standard. If passed, the change would mean that doctors would no longer have to guess what sort of medical information reasonable patients would want to receive, instead making them only responsible for providing what could be expected from a reasonable doctor.
Though any bill including that switch would probably still be opposed by many Democrats, Wachs said he would support Assembly Bill 139 as long as his amendment were adopted. What more of a compromise, he asked, could Republicans ask for?
“It’s time for us to start cooperating and getting along,” he said. “This can’t go on forever. This state is not served by this.”
The Republicans on the committee, though, contended there have been cases of cooperation in recent times. As one example, state Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, cited the likelihood that Republicans would drop their support for another tort-reform bill, Assembly Bill 29, which had also drawn opposition from Democrats.
And Samantha Kerkman, R-Powers Lake, reminded the committee that the state has gone through times when the current balance of power between the two parties was reversed. She said she can remember seeing many a Republican-sponsored amendment go down at the hands of Democrats when the Democrats were in the majority.
In other words, although everyone agrees that compromise is a fine thing, it’s not something you can expect when you’re in the minority.