Senate committee hears bills that address WI National Guard’s handling of sexual assault

Lawmakers also heard testimony on a bill to regulate food delivery services

By: - August 9, 2023 5:33 am

Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) told the committee that third-party delivery services can currently operate without being responsible to the restaurants whose food they transport. (Screenshot from WisEye)

A Senate committee considered a package of bills to increase oversight over the Wisconsin National Guard’s handling of sexual assault cases and a bipartisan bill that seeks to regulate food delivery services on Tuesday. 

Tightening oversight of Wisconsin National Guard’s handling of sexual assault cases

The Senate Labor, Regulatory Reform, Veterans and Military Affairs committee heard testimony from Sen. Eric Wimberger (R-Green Bay) and Rep. Tony Kurtz (R-Wonewoc) about a package of bills that seek to change how the Wisconsin National Guard addresses sexual assault. 

The proposed changes originated from a legislative council study committee, which met last year, that was tasked with developing legislation to address the Wisconsin National Guard’s sexual assault and sexual harassment. The committee, which included Wimberger and Kurtz, was formed in response to allegations that surfaced in 2019 and a report by the National Guard bureau of the Department of Defense that found the body’s programs and systems for handling allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment, were non-compliant with federal law and regulation, and were deficient or failing. 

“While the Wisconsin National Guard under the Major General Paul Knapp’s leadership has been diligently working to implement the recommendations contained in the assessment, the study committee identified a number of areas in which legislation will complement the Guard’s genuine efforts to ensure that the men and women who volunteer to serve our state and nation are able to do so in an environment that takes their safety seriously,” Kurtz told the committee. 

SB 166 would make several changes to the Wisconsin Code of Military Justice, including by implementing a policy that ensures that victims of offenses, under the code, are treated with dignity, respect, courtesy and fairness. 

SB 167 would require the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) to compile and submit annual reports. One report, which would be submitted to the governor and the Legislature, would focus on sexual assault and sexual harassment reported by members of the Wisconsin National Guard. The DMA would also need to submit a report that describes any substantive changes to the federal Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) during the prior federal fiscal year to the Legislature. 

SB 168 would require the DMA to establish and maintain a case management system, which would ensure a way for the National Guard to track and manage casework related to misconduct within the Guard.

Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison), who also sat on the legislative council study committee, said in a statement that the bills are the “product of bipartisan collaboration.” 

“Military members deserve to be treated with the utmost respect and in the unfortunate circumstance when an assault occurs, they must know that there are systems in place that prioritize their safety and hold the assailant accountable,” Agard said. “ I am hopeful that these bills will become law in a bipartisan manner and that we continue this focus on preventing misconduct and supporting survivors of sexual assault — we must send a clear message that our government recognizes, believes, and always stands with survivors.”

The bills passed the Assembly in June and would need to pass the Senate before going to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk for signing. Evers’ spokesperson Britt Cudaback said in a statement in June that Evers “strongly supports the committee’s work to prevent sexual harassment, assault, and misconduct of any kind in the Wisconsin National Guard, and he’s hopeful the Legislature will work quickly this session to pass legislation in support of this critical goal.” 

Bill would regulate food delivery apps

The committee also heard testimony on SB 290, a bill co-authored by Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) and Rep. Alex Dallman (R-Green Lake) that would implement three requirements for third-party food delivery services like Uber Eats, Doordash and Grubhub.

The bill is a response to the explosion of delivery services following the COVID-19 pandemic when many restaurants were forced to close their doors. 

Kristine Hillmer of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, which supports the bill, said that demand for delivery is not as high as it was in 2021, but is still much higher than prior to the pandemic and growing. 

“As an industry grows, especially at a rate that is artificially accelerated due to forces like the pandemic, there are issues and business practices that do emerge that are not beneficial to all restaurants,” Hillmer said. “This is why we are here today regarding putting some parameters in place to level the playing field for restaurants especially as they try to hang on to their businesses in the post-pandemic recovery.”

Testin told the committee that third-party delivery services can currently operate without being responsible to the restaurants whose food they transport. He said this “can lead to the customer mistakenly blaming the restaurant for errors over which they have no control.” 

“This bill outlines best practices and creates an environment of transparency that will enable both restaurants and delivery services to thrive,” Testin told the committee. 

The first provision of the bill would try to remedy this by requiring food delivery services to provide a publicly accessible process for a restaurant to request its removal from the delivery service. Delivery services would be required to comply with restaurants’ request to be removed within three business days. 

Steven Anderson, general counsel for Culvers, testified that the problem of food delivery services listing the restaurant on their websites without the company’s consent is an “ongoing problem that seemingly never ends.

“When [delivery services] list our information on the website, I can tell you every single time it’s incorrect,” Anderson said. “The pricing is incorrect. The menu items are incorrect, the ability to customize which is essential to our brand, is incorrect. It’s very confusing to the guests and the franchisees when a delivery driver pulls up and makes an order that doesn’t make any sense.”

Under the bill, third-party food delivery services would also be barred from soliciting requests from consumers that a restaurant be added to the digital network of a third-party food delivery service.

The second provision of the bill would require that delivery services ensure that people delivering food for the service have knowledge of basic food safety principles, including personal hygiene and avoiding cross contamination.

The last provision would require delivery services to inform restaurant owners of the contents of orders placed from the restaurant with the third-party food delivery service and the times that orders are placed.

The Wisconsin Assembly passed a similar bill last year, but it stalled in the Senate. 

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Baylor Spears
Baylor Spears

Baylor Spears is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner. She’s previously written for the Minnesota Reformer and Washingtonian Magazine. A Tennessee-native, she graduated with a degree in journalism from Northwestern University in June 2022.

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