GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV)-- Governor Scott Walker has signed 51 bills into law in the last week and among them are several new laws that democrats say are an attack on women.
One law Walker signed on last Thursday, SB 202, which repeals the Equal Pay Enforcement Act which has been in place since 2009.
Senator Dave Hansen (D) co-authored the bill and said it was intended to make it easier for wage discrimination victims to have their cases heard in court. Under the Equal Pay Enforcement Act victims of wage discrimination would be able to argue for compensatory and punitive damages in the circuit courts.
"The federal law didn't work, very cumbersome very hard to get done, nobody was winning in federal court, so this was an opportunity to go local court, circuit court," said Senator Hansen, "This would be more quickly done, there would be an opportunity not just to get back pay but punitive and compensatory damage and maybe some of the companies were concerned with that."
In the 2 1/2 years the law has been in place, it has never been applied in any cases. Hansen argues that that shows the law is working.
"The courts weren't bogged down, the protection was there, and we were headed in the right direction," said Hansen.
"It was a pretty controversial change in 2009, because a lot of the business community felt that it would make businesses less likely to locate or expand in Wisconsin because Wisconsin would be adding this wild card punishments with the law," said Robert Burns.
Burns is an employment and labor attorney for Davis & Kuelthau, S.C. in Green Bay and he said it's too early to tell if the Equal Pay Enforcement Act had any impact at all.
"There's still a lot of employment discrimination claims being filed, so the idea that those provisions dramatically changed the behavior, I don't know if you could say that," said Burns.
People in Wisconsin are protected from workplace discrimination under the Wisconsin fair employment act and by federal law.
Burns said the Equal Pay Enforcement Act did not make it any easier for victims to go to court, that the only real change was that that once workplace discrimination was proved, you could argue in the circuit courts for compensatory and punitive damages.
"Under the new act just signed by the Governor, it just takes away that compensatory punitive piece but leaves all the rest of the Wisconsin fair employment act in place, so people can still bring their discrimination claims through the Wisconsin fair employment act, but they aren't going to have access to that compensatory punitive damage piece which has only been in the law for a little over two years anyways," said Burns.
As for claims being made that it helped with wage disparities between men and women, Burns said he doesn't see a connection, because before the victims of wage discrimination were always paid back-pay.
Governor Walker defends his decision to repeal the Act under SB202. His spokesperson Cullen Werwie released this statement to Local Five:
"Individuals subject to discrimination will continue to be able to seek these damages in federal court and are eligible for back pay, reinstatement, court costs, and attorney fees just as they were under prior law. 2011 Wisconsin Act 219 removes a duplicative and unnecessarily costly process related to seeking punitive and compensatory damages in state court, allowing trial lawyers to raise their payouts. It does not single out any group of individuals. All individuals in Wisconsin will be treated the same as they have been for decades. Wisconsin has and will continue to have some of the strongest workplace protections in the nation."
The issue has already become a talker on the campaign trail with Walker's Democratic opponents in the upcoming Recall Election criticizing Walker for attacking women.
"I think what governor walker has said, particularly by signing these bills on Friday when there was little attention paid to them is that he is not sensitive to the needs of women, whether its women healthcare or equal pay we have to have a governor whose going to be sensitive to women's issues," said Tom Barrett.
Recall candidate Kathleen Falk has this to say in a statement to Local Five:
"Governor walker has turned back the clock for women in Wisconsin. As a woman, as a mother who worked full-time while raising my son, i know first-hand how important pay equity and health care are to women across Wisconsin."