Lame Duck Laws Hurting the State
Tying hands of Attorney General stalls 15 lawsuits, could cost taxpayers millions.
In November 2018 the voters chose to throw Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel out of office and elect Democrat Josh Kaul. But some six months before the election, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald began plotting a way to do all they could to nullify the results of that expected Democratic wave by undermining the power of the governor and attorney general.
The result was the “Lame Duck” laws passed last December and signed by defeated Gov. Scott Walker just before leaving office. Fitzgerald and Vos declared the laws reflected the “will of the people,” but in fact they were overwhelmingly opposed by the voters, as the Wisconsin Examiner just reported: a check of open records found that for the entire Legislature there were 47,094 contacts from people opposing the lame duck measures and 756 contacts from people supporting them — a margin of 98 percent opposed to 2 percent in favor.
It has taken more than half a year for these records to be released because Vos and the Republicans wanted to charge 81-year-old citizen activist Sheila Plotkin more than $1,000 to get the records, a demand a court decision ultimately overruled.
As a non-partisan Legislative Council memo describing the change noted, “under prior law,” the DOJ made such decisions “with the approval of the governor” but now it required “the approval of a legislative body.” Similarly the law was changed to require legislative approval of how legal settlement funds are handled.
The Republican-controlled Legislature is now using this law to micro-manage Kaul’s legal work. “In multiple letters,” the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee “asked Kaul’s office to provide more than a dozen specific pieces of information about each case pending approval,” including “a summary of each case in question, potential defenses, a list of relevant cases and state laws, a range of settlements offered in similar cases and relevant legal briefs,” as Wisconsin Public Radio reported.
The disagreement between the legislators and Kaul goes back to February and in the last month has gotten particularly heated. “Kaul asked lawmakers to sign confidentiality agreements, which he said were required by terms of the settlement before beginning talks,” the story noted. “Correspondence shows lawmakers expressed willingness to sign confidentiality agreements on July 12, but reversed their opinion by Aug. 19, arguing the committee’s closed meeting should be sufficient to meet confidentiality concerns.”
After the flip-flop, the co-chairs of Joint Finance, Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) sent a letter to Kaul arguing that closed sessions are designed to “handle sensitive—often confidential—information, including negotiating union contracts.”
Except that a closed meeting provides no guarantee of confidentiality.
“A Wisconsin court decision indicates that material shared in closed session need not be kept confidential,” the attorney general wrote to legislators in reply.
As Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council President Bill Lueders told the Wisconsin State Journal, there isn’t anything in the state open meetings law that “prohibits someone in attendance from talking about what transpired.”
So the Republicans came up with a new strategy, hiring a private attorney last week who will be paid $290 per hour to help them on the issue. Since the Republicans hold a 12-4 majority on the Joint Finance Committee, they didn’t bother to consult Democrats on the committee, who released a statement saying “they had no knowledge of the hiring until it was made public in press reports,” as WPR reported.
The attorney created a contract agreement with the Republican lawmakers whereby the counsel is “authorized to sign (the non-disclosure agreement) on behalf of the (committee), thereby binding the JFC, its members and agents,” the agreement stated.
Except that none of the Democrats on the committee had signed the agreement. They told the Journal Sentinel they were “baffled by the notion” that a private attorney “they didn’t know” — and had been hired without their consent — “had the power to limit what they could tell the public.”
Their view received backing from Rick Champagne, director of the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau, who wrote a memo explaining that a confidentiality agreement signed by an attorney did not apply to individual lawmakers, the story noted. “I cannot find any authority that would require a member of the Legislature who serves on a committee to keep confidential any information delivered in closed session unless the information was required by state or federal law to be kept confidential or was information that the member had agreed to keep confidential under a confidentiality agreement signed by the member,” Champagne wrote.
Kaul’s office “has released months of correspondence indicating at least 15 lawsuits have been stalled by the disagreement,” the WPR story noted. Millions of dollars are at stake for the state, including a case “between the state Department of Employee Trust Funds and a private contractor accused of not completing work that could net the state more than $14 million and a Medicaid malpractice claim worth up to roughly $8 million.”
Kaul has also sued Purdue Pharma to recover the state’s cost for the opioid epidemic — a case Schimel refused to pursue, with Walker’s approval — which could result in a multi-million dollar settlement for the state. That is, if Republican legislators don’t try to kill a suit their longtime leader opposed.
This is what happens, Gov. Tony Evers noted at a press conference last week, because of the lame duck laws clamping down on “the ability of the attorney general and myself to conduct administrative business… Well, this is how it plays out, folks. We’re in a position where everybody’s buying lawyers and hiring staff to solve a problem that should have never occurred.”
Darling and Nygren didn’t respond to questions from Urban Milwaukee, and their committee is expected to review some of the more minor legal settlements in closed session today, with no guarantee any of the 16 legislators on the committee won’t publicly divulge some of the details. It’s a mess that could be very costly to taxpayers, and all because Republicans refused to accept the result of last November’s election, and then ignored the hailstorm of citizen objections to their power grab.
If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits, all detailed here.
More about the Lame Duck Laws
- State Supreme Court Reviews Lame Duck Laws - Ruth Conniff - Oct 22nd, 2019
- Kaul Says Lame Duck Law Costs Taxpayers - Melanie Conklin - Sep 10th, 2019
- Democrats’ Bill Repeals Lame Duck Law - Laurel White - Sep 6th, 2019
- GOP Bungling Could Cost Wisconsin Taxpayers Millions - State Sen. Jennifer Shilling - Sep 4th, 2019
- Murphy’s Law: Lame Duck Laws Hurting the State - Bruce Murphy - Sep 4th, 2019
- Questions Swirl Around State Budget Committee Republicans’ Hiring of Lawyer/Lobbyist at Taxpayer Expense - One Wisconsin Now - Sep 4th, 2019
- Lame Duck Laws Opposed Overwhelmingly - Erik Gunn - Sep 4th, 2019
- Sen. Alberta Darling’s Corrupt Lame Duck Law Puts Settlement Funds At Risk - State Senate Democratic Committee - Aug 28th, 2019
- Serious Flaws in Republican Lame Duck Laws on Display in Joint Finance Committee - State Rep. Gordon Hintz - Aug 27th, 2019
- GOP Suit Slaps Kaul on Lame Duck Laws - Melanie Conklin - Aug 2nd, 2019
- State Supreme Court Upholds Lame-Duck Laws - Laurel White - Jun 21st, 2019
- Gov. Evers Releases Statement Relating to Wisconsin Supreme Court Decision - Gov. Tony Evers - Jun 21st, 2019
- Wisconsin Budget: Lame Duck Mistake Reopens Tax Debate - Jon Peacock - Jun 12th, 2019
- High Court Reinstates Lame Duck Laws - Shawn Johnson - Jun 12th, 2019
- The State of Politics: An Uphill Fight for ‘Lame Duck’ Challengers? - Steven Walters - May 20th, 2019
- Conservatives Argue Against Lame-Duck Lawsuit - Shawn Johnson - May 16th, 2019
- Op Ed: Constitutional Boundaries Need Enforcement - Erin Grunze - May 10th, 2019
- Supreme Court Restores Lame Duck Appointees - Shawn Johnson - May 1st, 2019
- Former Lawmakers, WILL Enter Extraordinary Session Lawsuit - Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty - Apr 23rd, 2019
- Appeals Court Sides with Evers on Appointees - Shawn Johnson - Apr 10th, 2019
- GOP Asks Court to Restore Walker Appointees - Laurel White - Apr 2nd, 2019
- Evers, GOP Fight Over Walker Appointees - Laurel White - Mar 30th, 2019
- Appeals Court Restores Some Lame Duck Laws - Laurel White - Mar 28th, 2019
- Joint Statement: Appellate Court Decision on the Extraordinary Session - Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald - Mar 27th, 2019
- Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald Sends Letter to Appointees Impacted By Governor Evers’ Actions - Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald - Mar 27th, 2019
- Second Judge Rules Against Lame Duck Laws - Laurel White - Mar 27th, 2019
- Arguments Begin on 2nd Lame Duck Suit - Laurel White - Mar 25th, 2019
- Dane County Court’s New Level of Judicial Activism Throws Wisconsin Into Chaos - MacIver Institute - Mar 25th, 2019
- Representative LaKeshia Myers Issues a Statement Regarding the Lame Duck Court Ruling - State Rep. LaKeshia Myers - Mar 21st, 2019
- Judge Blocks Lame Duck Laws - Shawn Johnson - Mar 21st, 2019
- Gov. Evers Releases Statement on Dane County Court’s Ruling on Lame-Duck Session - Gov. Tony Evers - Mar 21st, 2019
- Evers Joins Unions on Lame Duck Suit - Shawn Johnson - Feb 25th, 2019
- Fourth Lawsuit Against Lame Duck Laws - Shawn Johnson - Feb 22nd, 2019
- DPW Files Federal Lawsuit Over Republicans’ Lame-Duck Power Grab - Democratic Party of Wisconsin - Feb 21st, 2019
- Rep. Spreitzer, Sen. Ringhand Propose Lame Duck Limits - State Rep. Mark Spreitzer - Feb 11th, 2019
- Judge Blocks Lame Duck Voting Restrictions - Laurel White - Jan 18th, 2019
- Rep. Jimmy Anderson Seeks to Void the Wisconsin Power Grab - State Rep. Jimmy Anderson - Jan 10th, 2019
- Op Ed: Lame Duck Mischief Defamed the State - Spencer Black - Jan 2nd, 2019
- Campaign Cash: Lame Duck Law Helped Ashley Furniture - Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - Dec 20th, 2018
- Op Ed: Liberals All Wrong on Early Voting Law - Rick Esenberg - Dec 20th, 2018
- Op Ed: We the Irrelevant People - Sheila Plotkin - Dec 19th, 2018
- History Repeats With Latest Post-Election Republican Attack on Early Voting - One Wisconsin Now - Dec 19th, 2018
- Kaul Calls Lame Duck Laws ‘Terrible’ - Mary Kate McCoy - Dec 19th, 2018
- Court Challenge to Voting Restrictions Filed - Laurel White - Dec 18th, 2018
- Murphy’s Law: State Facing Endless Lawsuits? - Bruce Murphy - Dec 18th, 2018
- One Wisconsin Institute Files Request for Court to Enforce Rulings Striking Down Republican Lame Duck Restrictions on Voting - One Wisconsin Institute - Dec 17th, 2018
- Motion to Block Early Voting Restrictions to be Filed Today - Citizen Action of Wisconsin - Dec 17th, 2018
- Carpenter: Require ‘Lame Duck” Bills to Supermajority Votes - State Sen. Tim Carpenter - Dec 17th, 2018
- Op Ed: Lame Duck Bills Too Rushed, Secretive - Erin Grunze - Dec 16th, 2018
- Walker Signs Lame Duck Bills - Laurel White - Dec 14th, 2018
- Rep. Zamarripa Statement on Lame Duck Bills - State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa - Dec 14th, 2018
- One Wisconsin Institute Announces Coming Legal Action Against GOP ‘Lame Duck’ Voting Rights Attacks - One Wisconsin Institute - Dec 14th, 2018
- Governor Walker just sealed his legacy as the worst Governor in state history - State Sen. Chris Larson - Dec 14th, 2018
- Governor Walker Signs Extraordinary Session Legislation into Law in Green Bay - Gov. Scott Walker - Dec 14th, 2018
- Governor-elect Tony Evers Statement on Kimberly-Clark Announcement - Gov. Tony Evers - Dec 13th, 2018
- Walker Defends Lame Duck Bills - Laurel White - Dec 12th, 2018
- Murphy’s Law: Republicans’ Plan for Permanent Power - Bruce Murphy - Dec 11th, 2018
- Lame Duck Law Adds Work For State Agencies - Rich Kremer - Dec 11th, 2018
- Lawmakers Change How WEDC Tracks Jobs - Laurel White - Dec 10th, 2018
- Op Ed: Republican Power Grab Unprecedented - State Sen. Chris Larson - Dec 10th, 2018
- The State of Politics: 5 Reasons for Republican Power Play - Steven Walters - Dec 10th, 2018
- Campaign Cash: WMC Behind New Anti-Regulation Bill - Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - Dec 7th, 2018
- Wisconsin Budget: One More Tax Cut For The Wealthy - Tamarine Cornelius - Dec 7th, 2018
- City Beat: Episode 002 - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 6th, 2018
- Lame-Duck Bill Changes Highway Funding - Rich Kremer - Dec 6th, 2018
- Murphy’s Law: What Will Scott Walker’s Legacy Be? - Bruce Murphy - Dec 6th, 2018
- Governor Walker: What Will Your Message To Gov.-Elect Evers Be? - State Sen. Tim Carpenter - Dec 6th, 2018
- WI & MI GOP Attempt to Undermine the Voice of Voters, Put Democracy and Safety at Risk - Democratic Attorneys General Association - Dec 6th, 2018
- Your Right to Know: Lame Duck Laws All About Secrecy - Dee J. Hall - Dec 5th, 2018
- Data Wonk: The Republican War Against Democracy - Bruce Thompson - Dec 5th, 2018
- Extraordinary Session Update: Legislature Approves Critical Reforms - Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty - Dec 5th, 2018
- Rep. Gwen Moore Statement on Republican Power Grab - U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore - Dec 5th, 2018
- Statement on Lame Duck Session - State Rep. Evan Goyke - Dec 5th, 2018
- Legislature Works Overnight To Curb Evers Power - Shawn Johnson and Laurel White - Dec 5th, 2018
- Governor-elect Tony Evers Statement on Extraordinary Session - Gov. Tony Evers - Dec 5th, 2018
- Republican’s Holiday Gift to Wisconsin: An Assault on Democracy - State Sen. Janis Ringhand - Dec 5th, 2018
- Unprecedented Power Grab Will Break Wisconsin for Years to Come - State Sen. Chris Larson - Dec 5th, 2018
- Senator Taylor Believes GOP Are Taking Career Ending Votes - State Sen. Lena Taylor - Dec 4th, 2018
- Bill Curbing Evers’ Power Moves to Legislature - Shawn Johnson and Laurel White - Dec 4th, 2018
- Extraordinary Session Policy Items Flying Under the Radar - Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty - Dec 4th, 2018
- Will Republican Legislature Risk Contempt With Scheme to Enact New Limits on Early Voting? - One Wisconsin Now - Dec 4th, 2018
- Representative Lisa Subeck Statement on the Extraordinary Session - State Rep. Lisa Subeck - Dec 4th, 2018
- Power Tends to Corrupt, Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely - State Rep. Jimmy Anderson - Dec 4th, 2018
- Governor-elect Tony Evers’ Testimony to the Joint Committee on Finance Opposing Extraordinary Session Legislation - Gov. Tony Evers - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Eight Days After November Election Republican Assembly Leader Robin Vos Requested New Restrictions on Early Voting - One Wisconsin Now - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Op Ed: GOP Bills Change 400 Sections of State Law - State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Rep. Brostoff Statement on Republican Effort to Override Will of Wisconsin Voters - State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Conservation Voters issue statement on lame duck bills - Wisconsin Conservation Voters - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Evers Will Fight Plan to Limit His Power - Corri Hess - Dec 3rd, 2018
- GOP Lame Duck Session Targets Evers - Laurel White - Dec 3rd, 2018
- ACLU of Wisconsin’s Board of Directors condemns lame duck session - American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Stop the Wisconsin GOP power grab - Indivisible Madison - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Election defeat leads to GOP temper tantrum - State Sen. Jennifer Shilling - Nov 30th, 2018
- Vos Republicans: ‘Too Many People Voted’ - One Wisconsin Now - Nov 30th, 2018