The good news is our state legislators have packed up their concealed guns and headed home to their castles until January. The bad news is what they managed to get done during their misnamed "jobs" session that ended last week.
While state employees were reading the Halloween memo from the Department of Administration's Mike Huebsch about being respectful of coworkers who choose to exercise their new right to carry concealed firearms to work (oh no, after you, I insist!) the Legislature was ramming through a corporate agenda that hurts regular citizens and helps big companies.
Corporations will get more tax breaks (this is mainly what passed for job creation in the jobs session - let's see if the benefits trickle down on the rest of us). As for the little guy: Well, it's easier to shoot people - at work, in your home and, conveniently, in your boat or your car. On the other hand, it's harder to report on or speak out about what is going on in the Capitol, as citizens carrying signs and cameras now face expulsion and arrest (good thing we can bring in our guns!)
It will soon be harder to get good information about birth control, as the Senate passed a bill dismantling accurate sex ed and mandating a failed abstinence program. On the flip side, liquor stores can start selling booze at 6 a.m. instead of 8 a.m.
Most craven new law: a cap on attorneys' fees at three times damages, which means people who suffer from a company's negligence will no longer find a lawyer willing to take their case. The main impact will be on the poor, because the law removes the incentive for lawyers to take cases that would allow fee-shifting: getting attorneys' fees from the other side when they win.
Consumer rights advocates say fee-shifting statutes "provide the key to courthouse door" to people of limited means.
It's open season on consumers in Wisconsin.
The Republicans are fond of saying they want less government regulation and a free-market approach to dealing with issues like faulty products. But actually, what they are doing is getting rid of both the public and private-market versions of consumer protection. This clears the way for corporations to do anything they want.
Like punitive damages, attorneys' fees in personal injury cases sound exorbitant to people who look at it as a way for greedy people to make money by taking businesses to court. What they overlook is the fact that companies actually write a certain level of death and dismemberment into their business plans. Ford knew the Pinto would sometimes explode and kill people. McDonald's was aware that brewing coffee at scalding temperatures, while it saved money by making many more cups per batch of grounds, would also send some customers to the hospital for skin grafts.
These companies did a cold, hard calculation: It saved them money to avoid retooling, and to pay out a small amount in lawsuits to injured customers.
The point of attorney's fees and punitive damages is that they blow up the business plan that allows for a certain amount of injury and even death. If it's too expensive to hurt people, it's not worth it.
We wouldn't need high attorneys' fees or punitive damages if we had strong regulation. In Wisconsin, our corporate-crony legislators are going after both.
The most hopeful thing to come out of the special session was what didn't happen: The Senate failed to get the votes together to pass a charter school bill that could devastate public schools throughout the state.
The charter school bill, SB22, stirred up passionate opposition among ordinary Wisconsinites. The hearings on the bill were amazing to watch, filled with testimony from parents, teachers and concerned citizens from all parts of the state who overwhelmingly opposed the idea.
Dale Schultz, the all-powerful swing vote in the Senate, never liked the charter school bill much, and his willingness to take a stand on principle may make a historically significant difference. Senate staff told me late last week Schultz was holding the line. Without his vote, the bill could not get off the ground. That was a relief, because while some Democrats hoped SB22 would die in committee, it passed Joint Finance and seemed destined for passage only a few days before.
The bill would create a statewide charter school board of Walker appointees, open the doors to a massive expansion of charter schools that operate outside local control, and rapidly expand online academies that could drain resources from regular, bricks-and-mortar schools and lead to a cascade of school closings.
Parents and teachers from rural parts of the state testified that the bill would devastate their communities, where school plays and football teams are the heart of the town, consigning rural kids to getting their education through online courses instead of attending real schools with teachers, mentors, coaches and peers.
Like so many of the Legislature's bad ideas, this one came from the American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate group that drafts bills and tries to get them passed in the states. Big bucks and powerful people in Wisconsin are pushing school choice. School choice groups spent almost as much as Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce in the last election cycle.
The American Federation for Children issued a press release praising Joint Finance for passing the charter school bill at the end of October. The author of that press release: Brian Pleva, former chief of staff to Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald.
It is heartening to see ordinary people, common sense and Dale Schultz get in the way of the corporate juggernaut that is taking over our state. If we can turn back SB22, there is hope for Wisconsin yet.
Ruth Conniff is the politial editor of The Progressive.