By State Representative, Leon D. Young
It has been said, “if you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.”
In other words, the legislative process, though messy and sometimes unappetizing, can produce healthy, wholesome results.
But, in truth, that quotation should be offensive to sausage makers; their process is much better controlled and produces a more predictable outcome.
This definitely is NOT the case when it comes to the Legislature crafting legislation – especially the state budget.
Case in point, 2011 Wisconsin Act 2 that was advanced at Scott Walker’s behest as part of his January 2011 Special Session that was alleged to promote economic development for our state.
Rather than providing more funding for job training or devising strategies to spur new job creation, Republicans instead gave product manufacturers a free pass.
More specifically, Act 2 requires: a claimant in a product liability action to prove that a manufacturer, distributor, seller, or promoter of a product manufactured, distributed, sold, or promoted the specific product alleged to have caused the claimant’s injury or harm.
For all intents and purposes, this rather innocuous shift of legal burden makes it difficult, if not impossible, for someone who has been poisoned by lead paint to seek legal redress and then prevail in Wisconsin’s courts.
As bad as this subversion of tort law was, the prohibition was directed exclusively to product liability cases in the future.
However, an anonymous, retroactive amendment ($895.046, Wis. Stats.) in the state budget (2013 Wisconsin Act 20) completely gutted product liability protections in this state, and would be applied retroactively.
Consequently, 171 Milwaukee children who had pending lead poisoning cases are now left without a legal remedy, because of the adoption of some obscure budget amendment.
Policy decision of this magnitude demand full transparency and direct input from the public.
The proper legislative course of action should have been a stand-alone bill, rather than the subterfuge of this provision becoming law as part of the state budget bill.
This legislative maneuver is akin to moving the goal post after the ball has been snapped for the point after.
Walker proudly proclaimed that “Wisconsin is open for business.” But, this begs the question: How far is the state willing to go?
Undermining Wisconsin’s product liability laws is too high a price to pay in order to promote a “pro-business” climate.
Moreover, it makes the process of making sausage, in hindsight, seem much less unsavory.