Media Mischaracterizes Local Ordinances Bill

By Kevin Binversie of Media Trackers

One would think having uniform rules around the state of Wisconsin regarding labor law, and wages wouldn’t be controversial. But that’s exactly how a report from early December in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel made a bill authored by and now being circulated by state Senator Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield).

In an article entitled “GOP bill would limit the money sexual harassment victims could win,” the state largest newspaper paints the bill as “anti-worker,” “anti-woman,” and “anti-local official.” Journal Sentinel reporter Jason Stein framed his article in the shadow of the recent series of sexual harassment scandals plaguing American politics and culture, with little evidence the bill will even do anything close to what he claims it does.

Victims of workplace discrimination in Milwaukee and Madison would have fewer ways to win money from their employers, under legislation being drafted by GOP lawmakers.

The proposal comes amid a national wave of women coming forward to speak about sexual misconduct within the media, politics and other workplaces.

The measure would limit discrimination claims made under local city ordinances and also pre-empt local governments like Milwaukee from requiring higher wages for city contractors or other higher standards for employers. If passed, the bill would mark at least the second time since 2012 that lawmakers have limited the damages available to victims of workplace discrimination.

The local ordinances are currently the only way for some workers to win damages for being demeaned or even groped. Under state law, for instance, harassed women and racial minorities can only sue to win lost wages, attorney’s fees and an order that the business stop the mistreatment, employment attorneys said.
The 2012 law reversed a 2009 law signed by previous Gov. Jim Doyle, and was criticized as a giveaway to the trial attorneys lobby by the state’s business community. Especially since federal law still provides oversight and protection for those seeking redress for workplace harassment.

However, with Republicans in control of state government and Democrats in control of local governments in Madison and Milwaukee this has led to a series of local ordinances which are in direct contradiction with the 2012 law. As a result of this patchwork quilt of location regulations, Kapenga’s bill will eliminate them. As a result, Wisconsin will be a state will one set of rules, not one where liberal communities can pass their own rules if they don’t like the ones being passed by the state legislature.

Here’s what the actual summary of the Kapenga bill says:

This bill preempts local governments from enacting or enforcing ordinances related to various employment matters.

Under current constitutional and statutory home rule provisions, a city or village may determine its own local affairs subject only to the Wisconsin Constitution and to any enactment of the legislature that is of statewide concern and that affects every city or village with uniformity. This bill states that all of the following matters are matters of statewide concern requiring uniform enforcement at the state, county, and municipal levels:

As such, the bill prohibits any city, village, town, or county (political subdivision) from enacting or enforcing an ordinance regarding any of those matters.

Under current law, a political subdivision generally may not enact and administer an ordinance establishing a minimum wage. Current law, however, exempts from that prohibition an ordinance that requires a different minimum wage rate for 1) an employee of a political subdivision; 2) an employee who performs work
under a contract for the provision of services to a political subdivision; or 3) an employee who performs work that is funded by financial assistance from a political subdivision. The bill eliminates those exemptions.

The bill also prohibits a political subdivision from imposing an occupational licensing requirement on an individual, to whom a state government occupational licensing requirement applies, which is more stringent than the state requirement.

Under the bill, neither the state nor a local governmental unit may enact a statute or ordinance, adopt a policy or regulation, or impose a contract, zoning, permitting, or licensing requirement, or any other condition, that would require any person to accept any provision that is a subject of collective bargaining under state or federal labor laws.
While it may be fair to criticize the Kapenga proposal as an “attack on the Home Rule” (local municipalities having the right to govern themselves), the idea it attacks women and workers is an outright falsehood given how just like the 2012 law, workers continue to have federal regulations to address their concerns.

Either the Journal Sentinel had no desire to offer Kapenga’s side of the debate, or was so invested in pushing the bill’s opponent’s “War on Women” rhetoric they didn’t to seek out the facts. Regardless, it’s a sloppy journalism at its finest.

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