Gov. Doyle: Governor Doyle Signs Worker’s Comp Bill

Jessica Erickson, Governor’s Office, 608-261-2156

Increase in Weekly Benefit to Injured Workers Approved
Among Nearly a Dozen Measures Signed into Law

Governor Jim Doyle renewed Wisconsin’s commitment to a safe
working environment Monday by signing a bill that increases weekly benefits
for injured workers and makes other changes in the Worker’s Compensation

Assembly Bill 669, consensus legislation advanced by
industry and labor representatives on the Worker’s Compensation Advisory
Council, was one of 11 bills the Governor signed into law during a ceremony
at the State Capitol. The Governor thanked council members and legislative
leaders, particularly Representative Steve Nass, for getting the bill

The bill increases the maximum, supplemental benefit from
$202 to $233 a week for job-related injuries. More than 200 individuals,
disabled by injuries years ago, are expected to benefit from the increase.
It also increases employer payments to a state fund for injured workers.
When a job-related injury results in the loss or total impairment of a hand,
arm, foot, leg, or eye, they will pay $10,000, instead of $7,000. If an
injury is fatal, the payment is also $10,000, instead of $5,000. The change
eliminates a fee structure that penalized an employer less for an injury
causing death than one causing dismemberment.

“Nearly a century ago, Wisconsin became the first state in
the nation to provide worker’s compensation,” Governor Doyle said. “With
these and other changes, we continue the state’s strong commitment to
workers and their families. In Wisconsin, industry, labor, and the state
have long pursued a common goal of making sure Wisconsin is a safe place to
work, live, and raise a family.”

Governor Doyle also signed Senate Bill 100 to provide
regulatory relief to small businesses. The new law creates a Small Business
Regulatory Review Board that will review administrative rules. If it finds
a rule places an unnecessary burden on small businesses, the board can urge
the agency or the Legislature to change it. Senator Bob Welch and
Representative Terri McCormick were the lead sponsors of SB 100, which also
changes the definition of a small business. The number of full-time
employees remains at 25 or fewer, but the new definition specifies gross
annual sales of less than $5 million, double the previous amount.

Additionally, the Governor signed Assembly Bill 757, which
increases the bonding limit of the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and
Clinics Authority by $60 million to $235 million. The measure, introduced
by Representative David Ward, will help finance an expansion of the UW
Children’s Hospital. The increased bonding authority for the planned $62
million project will not involve state tax dollars, because the hospital
authority is financially independent.

Other bills Governor Doyle signed include:

* Assembly Bill 771, authored by Representatives Johnnie Morris and
Leon Young, and Senators Spencer Coggs and Gwen Moore, directs the Governor
each year to proclaim February as African American History and Cultural
Heritage Month.

* Senate Bill 223, authored by Senator Dave Zien and Representatives
Dan Vrakas and Bobby Gronemus, reaffirms state law that lets individuals,
age 18 or older, operate a motorcycle, snowmobile, or all-terrain vehicle
without a helmet. In a ruling two years ago, the state Supreme Court said a
jury could consider a person’s decision not to wear a helmet and reduce
damages in a personal injury case. Under this new law, a person’s decision
to go without a helmet, as state law allows, cannot be used against that
person in a personal injury suit.

* Assembly Bill 403, authored by Representatives Steve Wieckert and
Bobby Gronemus, and Senator Ted Kanavas, authorizes state licensing and
regulation of agents representing student athletes who are either attending
college and participating in an intercollegiate sport, or plan to enroll in
college and participate in a sport. Wisconsin Athletic Director Pat Richter
and Marquette University Athletic Director William Cords, among others,
urged the legislation’s enactment to protect athletic programs and athletes
from abuses that could put both at risk.

* Assembly Bill 247, authored by Senator Sheila Harsdorf and
Representatives Suzanne Jeskewitz and Bobby Gronemus, improves University of
Wisconsin System distribution of sexual assault and harassment information
to students, by allowing UW campuses the additional option of sending the
information electronically.

* Senate Bill 103, authored by Senators Rob Cowles and Dave Hansen and
Representative Judy Krawczyk, facilitates criminal background checks
conducted by the Department of Regulation and Licensing with the assistance
of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It specifically authorizes the
Department to investigate when it receives credible information that an
applicant or permit holder has been charged or convicted of an offense that
substantially relates to the licensed activity. This makes Wisconsin law
consistent with federal rules the FBI must observe in assisting states with
criminal background checks.

* Assembly Bill 843, authored by Representative Scott Jensen and Lena
Taylor and Senator Rob Cowles, provides natural gas and electric utilities a
new method of financing pollution control activities. With Public Service
Commission approval, they can issue environmental trust bonds and add those
costs to customer utility bills, as long as the bonds cost customers less
than alternative financing methods.

* Senate Bill 344, authored by Senators Dale Schultz and Bob Wirch and
Representatives Dan Vrakas and John Lehman, gives the Department of Employee
Trust Funds discretion to adjust dividend payments to Wisconsin Retirement
System beneficiaries on fixed annuities. Current law allows a dividend of
only 2% or more. The 2% threshold prevented a dividend payment last year for
the first time in WRS history. Pending a DETF rule, this new law sets set a
0.5% threshold, which would increase the average WRS annuity by
approximately $108 per year.

* Senate Bill 470, authored by Senator Carol Roessler and
Representative Gregg Underheim, specifies duties of a licensed physical
therapist assistant, an occupation which the Department of Regulation and
Licensing will regulate and license effective April 1 under a recently
enacted law.