Republican Bill to Undo Wisconsin Supreme Court's Controversial Lead Paint Decision

Republican lawmakers are moving to retroactively undo the state Supreme Court’s controversial lead paint decision. It could affect scores of ongoing lawsuits against paint manufacturers in the process.

When the state Supreme Court issued its lead paint decision in 2005, the business lobby went ballistic. The ruling meant victims of lead poisoning could sue companies that once manufactured lead paint even if the victims could not prove which specific company made the paint that hurt them.

At a public hearing Thursday, (1/19) West Bend Republican Sen. Glenn Grothman called it a repugnant decision, even “cockamamie.”

Republicans already effectively overturned the ruling last year for all lawsuits going forward. But Grothman now want to go further. His bill would overturn the ruling retroactively for the more than five years when it was the law of the land in Wisconsin. Grothman downplayed the significance, “You’re changing the rules, but not the rights.”

But Milwaukee attorney Peter Earl said the change would be a very big deal to the victims of lead poisoning he’s currently representing in court, including one lawsuit filed in 2006. He stood as he testified, surrounded on all sides by his clients, mostly African American children. Earl contended this bill was being introduced at the behest of paint companies who worry they might lose in court, “So they come to you and say, snap my fingers, Republicans in the state legislature, Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin. We own you. Pass a bill. Let us out of here.”

The plan is being pushed by prominent Madison lobbying firms and has the backing of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. It has not been scheduled for a vote in committee.