Wisconsin: Capital of Common Sense

May 14, 2014

By Lisa A. Rickard
President, U.S. Chamber Institute For Legal Reform

Forgive Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for walking with a "Texas Swagger" these days.

After all, back in 2010, the Badger State Governor warned Texas Governor Rick Perry: "Look out, we're coming after you." Walker wasn't challenging Perry to a High Noon quick draw — he was issuing a friendly jab that Wisconsin was seeking to match Texas' efforts to pass meaningful, common sense reforms in his own state’s legal system.

Four years later: Walker and Wisconsin state lawmakers have delivered on that promise.

During the current decade, Governor Walker and lawmakers have mindfully enacted bold legal reforms in Wisconsin—a major reason Walker feels confident in his push to create more jobs and job security in his state.

Let's take a look at the Wisconsin reforms that have been enacted during the past three years:

• In 2011, the very first piece of legislation signed by Governor Walker during his special session on job creation was Special Session Senate Bill 1 — a sweeping legal reform package that instituted a variety of changes, including reasonable limits on punitive damage awards; adopting common sense standards of submitting expert evidence in lawsuits; and curbing the ability to file abusive product liability lawsuits.

• In December 2013, the Wisconsin legislature passed, and Governor Walker signed the nation’s strongest Transparency in Private Attorney Contracting legislation, promoting transparency and limiting contingency fees when the state hires outside private plaintiffs’ lawyers.

• This March, Walker signed vital asbestos trust transparency legislation into law. This law requires greater transparency from tort plaintiffs who may also pursue claims with asbestos personal injury settlement trusts. The trusts were set up by bankrupt companies to compensate asbestos victims. However, they operate with little or no transparency, allowing plaintiffs to file lawsuits against solvent companies while “double-dipping” into the trusts. This means the trusts are being depleted faster, leaving less money for future victims. The bill signed by Governor Walker helps expose and remedy the abuse.

Three years. Three major legal reforms for the state of Wisconsin.

It was anything but easy. For one, legal reform doesn’t grab headlines like taxes, health care or education.

Furthermore, the initial reforms were signed during the heat of the headlines and protests over Walker’s pension and education reforms — and he signed the asbestos transparency legislation despite a large-scale misinformation and fear campaign effort by the trial bar. The last three years of landmark reforms have provided a template that other elected officials — governors, state legislators and even members of Congress — can and should utilize.

Back in 2006, ILR launched an advertising campaign in Wisconsin noting that the state’s legal system was headed in the wrong direction.

Thanks to the governor’s efforts, and the majority of those in the state legislature, Wisconsin is back on track.

Governor Walker has more than made good on his 2010 vow to Governor Perry. His Texas swagger is well-deserved.