Gov. Scott Walker signed four bills relating to women’s reproductive health and pay equality without the usual public fanfare last Thursday, a move that came under fire from Democrats and advocacy groups.
Walker signed the four bills into law on Thursday and announced their signing, along with 47 other bills, in a statement released the following day.
The first three bills relate to abortions in the state, and the fourth relates to women’s health issues, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau.
One piece of legislation repeals Wisconsin’s Healthy Youth Act. Another, known as the “webcam abortions bill,” relates to voluntary and informed consent to an abortion. A third document signed into law prohibits coverage for abortions in health plans sold through exchanges created by the federal Affordable Care Act, the sweeping health care law passed in 2010.
The fourth makes changes to the Wisconsin Fair Employment Law, repealing language that allows an individual to recover compensatory and punitive damages for employment discrimination.
According to the state statutes, the governor has six days to sign a bill into law after he receives the legislation.
Sara Finger, executive director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, said by 5 p.m. Thursday, as the deadline approached, advocacy groups like WAWH and media outlets were still waiting to hear what would become of the bills.
“There was very little fanfare about the four bills despite the Legislature’s efforts to make women’s health issues a big priority during the session,” Finger said.
On Friday, Walker’s office released a statement announcing the signing of the four bills, which were included on a list along with 47 other pieces of legislation set to be signed.
Wisconsin Right to Life spokesperson Susan Armacost said the characterization that Walker had signed the bills secretly was “absolutely crazy.”
“How was it a secret when all the pro-abortion groups were protesting against it”? Armacost said.
State Representative Nick Milroy, D-South Range, also expressed concern over the procedure of how the bills were passed.
“The normal procedure is that the governor’s office contacts legislators to alert us of bill signings,” Milroy said in a statement released Friday. “Over the last few weeks, we have received contacts about bill signings all over the state. Why were we not notified about the signing into law of these four bills that took place yesterday in secrecy”?
Several Democratic legislators released statements characterizing one new law as “[endorsing] pay cuts for women.”
Finger explained while the new law does not specifically eliminate a woman’s right to equal pay, it does create a system in which workplace discrimination will become much harder to enforce.
“The Equal Pay and Enforcement Act, passed during the 2009 session, allows individuals to seek justice in the workplace for discrimination,” Finger said. “The new law takes the teeth out of the act’s enforcement and eliminates incentives against workplace discrimination.”
Rep. Michelle Litjens, R-Vinland, also addressed the signing of the bill in a statement Monday. She said the Legislature passed the bill to improve the state’s business climate, and if a person believes they were discriminated against for the purposes of hiring or promoting, the individual can still sue in federal court.