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Wisconsin governor signs 51 pieces of controversial legislation

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker [official website] on Thursday and Friday signed 51 pieces of legislation [press release], including controversial bills regarding employment discrimination, sex education and abortion. Walker raised the ire of opponents [AP report] by quietly signing the various bills, then announcing the legislation the next afternoon, before what for many is a holiday weekend. One bill of note would bar compensatory and punitive damages [SB 202 materials] in employment discrimination lawsuits. Current state law allows awards up to $300,000. Walker also signed a public sex education bill [SB 237 materials] that requires teachers to stress the importance of abstinence and promote marriage. The law amends existing regulations, allowing school boards to enact abstinence-only legislation by removing existing mandatory instruction regarding "the health benefits, side effects, and proper use of contraceptives and barrier methods approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent pregnancy and barrier methods approved by the FDA to prevent sexually transmitted infections." Additionally, Walker signed two laws regarding abortion. The first bans abortion coverage in insurance plans [SB 92 materials] sold through the exchanges to be created in 2014 by the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) [text; JURIST backgrounder]. Exceptions are provided for cases of rape, incest or medical necessity. The second abortion bill requires physicians to meet privately with a potential abortion patient [SB 306 materials], in the absence of friends and family, to ensure she is not being coerced. The law also requires a 24-hour waiting period to obtain an abortion. Physicians violating the law can be charged with a felony.

There has been much controversy surrounding Scott Walker and legislation he has enacted since he took office in January 2011. Last month, a federal judge struck down [JURIST report] portions of Wisconsin's restrictive collective bargaining law. Earlier that week, it was announced that Wisconsin's voter ID law would be challenged in the state Supreme Court [JURIST report]. Last December, a federal appeals court struck down a Wisconsin campaign finance law [JURIST report].

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