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Tracy Kosbau
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Progress in the Wisconsin Legislature
Lawsuit Reforms and Measures Become Law

During the Wisconsin Legislature’s Fall Floor Period, a number of new laws were passed aimed at reducing the costs associated with litigation for Wisconsin businesses. Here are a few that may be of interest to our industry:

Trespasser Liability Act (2011 Wisconsin Act 93)
Some states’ courts have been adopting a new standard governing liability for injuries to trespassers that expands the liability of land owners. This measure cements Wisconsin’s existing law, thereby preventing courts from making landowners responsible for injuries sustained by unwanted trespassers on private property.

Reasonable Attorney Fees (2011 Wisconsin Act 92)
Effectively limits “reasonable attorney fees,” which can be recovered by a victorious plaintiff, to three times compensatory damages.  For example, if a plaintiff is awarded $10,000 by the court, the court can only make the defendant pay up to $30,000 in attorney fees incurred by the plaintiff.  Drawn-out lawsuits and massive legal fees have been used in Wisconsin to force businesses to settle cases instead of defending themselves.

WHEDA Small Business Loans (2011 Wisconsin Act 79)
Increases maximum amount of a small business loan from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority to $750,000.  The previous maximum was $200,000, which was too low to be useful in many business start-up and improvement scenarios.

6:00 a.m. Alcohol Sales (2011 Wisconsin Act 97)
Allows sales of alcoholic beverages for off-premise consumption to begin at 6:00 a.m., rather than 8:00 a.m.  Restaurants and taverns were already allowed to sell for on-premise consumption starting at 6:00 a.m., but this bill authorizes carry-out sales starting at 6:00 a.m., except in cities with an ordinance that specifies a later time.

Local Regulation of Landlords (2011 Wisconsin Act 108)
Prevents local governments from creating or enforcing certain limitations on landlords, particularly with regard to the rental application process.  Cities may no longer prevent landlords from utilizing court records, credit histories, social security numbers and other information in their tenant approval process.

Interest on Judgments (2011 Wisconsin Act 69):
Changes Wisconsin’s unjustifiably high interest rate on court judgments from 12 percent to the federal prime rate, plus one percent.  The interest rate was previously set at 12 percent in 1980, at a time when that was a reasonable rate.

You don’t have to stand on the sidelines and watch lawmaking happen. The key to protecting and promoting your business in government is to get to know your elected representatives.  Few goals will be achieved in the State Capitol without talking to lawmakers and educating them on how government regulations affect our businesses.

Foodservice professionals had a great opportunity to meet their elected representatives in person at Restaurant Lobby Day in Madison on February 8, 2012.

Get more details on Restaurant Lobby Day

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