The City County Building in downtown Madison.

The cities of Madison and Milwaukee are lobbying against a bill that would prohibit local governments from enforcing their own employment ordinances related to discrimination, hours, wages and benefits.

Lawmakers on the Assembly Committee on Local Government are set to hear public testimony on the proposal — introduced by Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, and Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield — on Wednesday. A Senate committee advanced the legislation on a party-line vote last week.

The proposal is designed to prevent the state from "becoming a patchwork quilt of employment laws," Kapenga said during the bill's first public hearing. 

The bill aims to fight against a national trend of municipalities "restricting free movement of labor and burdening employees and employers alike with excessive regulation," Kapenga said, noting that Wisconsin is made up of 1,924 municipalities. 

Norman Davis, civil rights director for the city of Madison, said in an email to community members that the legislation would gut the city's nearly 55-year-old Equal Opportunities Ordinance.

"Over the years, the City of Madison has worked toward strengthening Equal Opportunities law to adapt to the ever-changing demographics and challenges faced specific to the Madison community," Davis wrote.

Under the proposal, Davis said Madison could no longer ban discrimination based on "gender identity, non-religion, homelessness, source of income, social security number, physical appearance, political beliefs, student status, domestic partners, citizenship, unemployment status, and credit history" as it currently does. Those protected classes are unique to Madison's ordinance.

Democratic lawmakers and workers' rights advocates spoke against the bill at a news conference on Monday, timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, and Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Mt. Horeb, said the bill and a second proposal rolling back some protections under the state's family and medical leave act would harm workers.

"It’s time to start prioritizing proven and effective policies that will allow workers, their families and our communities to thrive," Ringhand said. 

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Kristen Taylor, with the Madison advocacy group Worker Justice Wisconsin, warned that eliminating or restricting local equal rights divisions could add to the caseload at the state level.

Alicia Jackson of Lodi said she has filed several discrimination complaints in Madison based on a disability. Jackson worried that going through a state or federal process would increase her chances of "fall(ing) through the cracks."

"Being able to work with a local agency provides a better comfort level," Jackson said.

The legislation would also eliminate exemptions granted under an existing law that prevents local governments from establishing a minimum wage. It would also ban a local government from imposing stricter occupational licensing requirements than those set by the state. 

During the bill's public hearing, Hutton argued the goal of the legislation is to "create a standard playing field for employers and to provide certainty to employees whether they are working in Milwaukee, Dane, Brown or Eau Claire County."

In addition to the cities of Madison and Milwaukee, the legislation is opposed by Dane County, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities and several labor unions and workers' rights groups. The bill is supported by business and trade lobbying groups including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the Wisconsin Bankers Association and the National Federation of Independent Business. 

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