As Wisconsin fully engages the roaring 20s, the state’s lawmakers have been busy enacting new laws. Here is a look at 12 new laws that will affect the health, safety, and rights of Wisconsin citizens and businesses.
Navigating these complicated new Wisconsin laws can leave anyone confused. Contact a trusted Wisconsin personal injury lawyer to help you decipher these new laws and help solve your legal problems.
Act 58 (AB-68): Foster Pay, Assistance Programs, Juvenile Corrections Services, Parents’ Counsel
Assembly Bill 68—which the governor signed into law as 2021 Wisconsin Act 58—is an ambitious new Wisconsin law with several provisions about the safety of children involved in the child protective services system.
These provisions include:
- A 2.5 percent increase in the amount of monthly basic maintenance rates paid to foster parents and to monthly kinship payments made to caregivers who are related to the child.
- Allocates money from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to programs and subsidies.
- Increases per-person daily rates paid by counties for state-provided juvenile correctional services.
- Continues a five-county pilot program that provides legal counsel for the parents involved in a Child in Need of Protection or Services proceeding.
Act 148 (SB-418): Annual Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting
2021 Wisconsin Act 148, also known as Senate Bill 418, requires the annual Wisconsin Child Abuse and Neglect (CAN) Report to include aggregated and trend information on changes in policies and practices that the Department of Children and Families has implemented to address problems mentioned in the summary. Additionally, the law requires certain legislative committees to conduct a hearing about the annual report.
Act 4 (January 2021 Special Session SB-1): Exemptions From Liability for COVID-19 Exposure
Wisconsin Act 4 was born of a special session senate bill and pertained to exemptions from liability for the deaths, injuries, or damages resulting from an actor that led to the transmission of the COVID-19 virus. The exemptions generally apply to partnerships, organizations, associations, governmental or tribal entities, schools, and institutions. This law exempts employers from liability through the act.
Despite the exemption from liability for most employers when employees acquired COVID-19 infections in the workplace, employers were still encouraged to enact COVID-19 protocols to protect workers. The bill, which became a law in February 2021, provided retroactive protection from accountability from March 2020 on.
Act 220 (AB-578): The Minimum Age for Organ Donation
The governor signed Assembly Bill 578 into law as Wisconsin Act 220 on April 8, 2002. This new Wisconsin law allows an applicant for a hunting, fishing, or trapping license to become listed as an organ donor when they apply for their license through the state Department of Natural Resources. Additionally, this law lowers the age at which a person can elect to become an organ donor from 15 and a half to 15 years of age.
Act 256 (SB-519): Permanent Restraining Orders in Sex Assault Cases
Another new Wisconsin law, 2021 Wisconsin Act 256, previously referred to as SB-519, allows the court to issue permanent restraining orders in cases where the court convicts the person who is the subject of the charge of sexually assaulting the person who requested the restraining order.
The previous law of this subject only allowed the placement of a restraining order between two and four years. The court could extend the ruling for another four years or—in given cases involving a substantial risk of homicide or sexual assault—up to 10 years.
According to a report from The Cap Times, lawmakers modeled the legislation after an existing Arizona law. Lawmakers designed it to prevent victims of sexual assault from being re-traumatized by their perpetrators. The bill applies to victims of first, second, or third-degree sexual assault, and the judge must base their decision to grant the order on the preponderance of evidence on the conviction record.
Act 257 (SB-535): Liability Exemptions Pertaining to Free Eyeglass Services
SB-535, signed into law as 2021 Wisconsin Act 257, exempts specific tax-exempt organizations from liability for damages arising from the provision of previously owned eyeglasses if the recipient of the eyeglasses was over 14 years old and the organization provided the glasses for free. The law also requires only licensed optometrists or ophthalmologists who have examined the recipient and issued a prescription for the glasses to offer free eyeglasses.
Act 54 (SB-99): Testing Requirement for Safety of Public Workers
Congress first introduced Wisconsin Act 54 as Senate Bill 99. It allows the court to require any criminal defendant who has thrown or expelled vomit, blood, semen, saliva, urine, feces, and other bodily fluids at public safety officers or prosecutors to get tested for communicable diseases. The catch is that the prosecution must establish probable cause that there was potential for transferring a communicable disease.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted, three communicable diseases spread through contact with infected bodily fluids such as blood: HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.
Act 225 (AB-765): Group Physical Therapy Included in Medicaid Benefits
Assembly Bill 765 was signed into law as 2021 Wisconsin Act 225 in a flurry of new law passages in April 2022. This law adds group physical therapy as one of the included benefits for Medicaid recipients. Group physical therapy refers to sessions with more than one but no more than 10 Medicaid recipients receiving services together from one or two providers.
Act 64 (SB-15): Reduces the Legal Age for a Learner’s Instruction Permit
The governor signed Senate Bill 15 into law as Act 64 on July 8, 2021. This law lowers the eligibility age for a learner’s instruction permit to operate a motor vehicle from 15 years and six months to 15 years. The law increases the time the driver must maintain an instruction permit to obtain a driver’s license from 12 months to 18 months. Additionally, the number of behind-the-wheel practice hours the driver must receive before they are eligible for an operator’s license is increased from 30 to 50.
As explained by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the driver must also complete a certified driver education program to receive a Wisconsin learner’s permit. The instructor must sign the driver’s license application in the proper certification area, and the first lesson behind the wheel must occur within 60 days of signing the application. Drivers under 18 must provide a signature of a parent or legal guardian and file proof of insurance in some circumstances. They must attend either a high school, high school equivalency program, or a home-based educational program.
Act 232 (AB-911): Changes to Workers’ Compensation Payments
2021 Wisconsin Act 232, introduced as Assembly Bill 911, is a major suite of changes to the state’s workers’ compensation laws.
Some of those changes include:
- The law expands the conditions under which an employer bases an employee’s earnings to determine the benefits paid to that individual through workers’ compensation, from part-time to full-time work. Previously, workers did not restrict their hours to part-time work and were not considered “part of a class” of regularly scheduled part-time employees. The law expands their wages to full-time to calculate workers’ compensation benefits. The new law eliminates wage expansion for employees working at a part-time job for at least 12 months who do not have another part-time job.
- Increases to the permanent partial disability (PPD) payments available under the law. Before the passage of Act 232, the PPD maximum weekly rate was $362 per week. As noted by insurance broker M3, the law increased that rate to $415 per week for injuries occurring after April 10, 2002, and to $430 per week for injuries occurring after January 1, 2023.
- Permits employees to have an observer present during a medical evaluation.
- Authorizes the state’s Department of Workforce Development (DWD) to provide records about employers who have filed for workers’ compensation claims through the Department of Human Services or a county department of human services.
- Transfers the authority to grant licenses to non-attorneys to appear at workers’ compensation hearings. Previously those decisions were made by the DWD. However, the new law places that authority in the Division of Hearings and Appeals.
- Makes changes to other inconsistencies in Wisconsin’s workers’ compensation laws.
Act 122 (SB-395): Investigations of Elder Abuse
Wisconsin Act 122, introduced as SB-395, requires agencies that serve at-risk elders and adults to investigate alleged abuse, financial exploitation, or neglect of an at-risk elder or adult.
Additionally, the agency must take at least one action from a specified list of acts.
Those actions include:
- Referring the report to another agency for an investigation to determine if the at-risk elder or adult needs protective services.
- Refer reports for examination within 24 hours if there are indications that the at-risk elder or adult has been a victim of abuse, exploitation, or neglect by a caregiver or non-client resident.
- Coordinate investigatory efforts with other agencies or authorities as appropriate.
Which Bills Did Not Pass in the 2021-2022 Legislative Session?
The above-listed bills were just a few of the dozens approved and signed into law in 2021-2022. However, many more failed as a result of full vetoes.
Here is a look at some of the bills that did not become new laws in Wisconsin.
- Assembly Bills 23 and 24 would have prohibited DHS and local health officers from requiring individuals to obtain COVID-19 vaccinations. It would have banned local health officers from taking action to forbid gatherings in places of worship due to COVID-19.
- Assembly Bill 597 would have allowed a person licensed to carry a gun to carry a concealed weapon or possess a firearm in a place of worship located on school grounds if the place of worship has a written policy allowing the possession.
- Assembly Bill 675 would have required employers to accept documentation of a worker’s natural immunity to COVID-19 instead of needing proof that the worker had obtained a COVID-19 vaccine or regular testing for COVID-19.
- Assembly Bills 935 and 936 would have required DHS to enforce work requirements on able-bodied adults applying for food assistance benefits. It would have also required them to submit to substance abuse screening, testing, and treatment. Additionally, there would be a six-month period of ineligibility for medical assistance benefits for able-bodied adults who fail to accept an offer of employment or an increase in wages or paid work hours.
- Senate Bill 494 would have exempted particular individuals or entities from requiring the Department of Natural Resources to issue a permit to introduce chemicals or biological agents into state water if the water is a private pond.
How a Bill Becomes a Law in Wisconsin
Wisconsin laws start as bills submitted for consideration by one of the two elected bodies or houses—the Assembly and the Senate. The bills are authored and sponsored by members and undergo scrutiny and consideration during committee debates. This consideration often results in the amendment of the bill’s language.
When the committee in the house that introduced the bill is satisfied with its presentation, they will vote to have it read and considered by the house as a whole. After the second reading of the bill, the house will vote. If the majority is in favor, the bill will go to the other house to undergo a similar debate and consideration.
Once both houses approve a bill, it will go to the governor for consideration. The governor has six days to determine whether to sign the bill into law or veto the bill. The Assembly and the Senate receive notification of the governor’s intent to veto. If the required time passes without the governor’s action on the bill, it automatically becomes law.
Navigating these complicated new Wisconsin laws can leave anyone confused. Contact a trusted lawyer to help you decipher these new laws and help solve your legal problems.