Laurel White

Democrats’ Bill Repeals Lame Duck Law

Would end new requirement that Attorney General get Legislature’s approval for lawsuits.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Sep 6th, 2019 10:32 am
Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Dave Reid.

Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Dave Reid.

Democratic state lawmakers on Thursday introduced a proposal to repeal a new state law that has led to weeks of gridlock between GOP lawmakers and Attorney General Josh Kaul at the Capitol.

Under a law passed during December’s lame-duck session of the state Legislature, Kaul must seek approval from the state’s budget-writing committee, which is controlled by Republicans, to settle any lawsuits involving the state.

Under the Democrats’ bill, that requirement would be repealed, essentially sending the state back to how settlements proceeded under former Attorney General Brad Schimel.

Speaking at a Capitol press conference on Thursday, Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said Kaul should have “the same authority every other attorney general has had.”

“If Brad Schimel was still our attorney general, we would not be here today,” Taylor said.

The proposal is co-sponsored by Democratic members of the budget-writing committee, which include Taylor, Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, and Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee.

The attorney general and the GOP co-chairs of the committee have sparred behind closed doors for months over how to implement the new law, with Kaul arguing he can’t share some information about cases without violating legal confidentiality agreements.

The gridlock, which has become public through a series of canceled meetings and public skirmishes over the past two weeks, is delaying state action on more than 15 cases, according to the state Department of Justice.

Those cases include several in which the state’s Medicaid program is seeking reimbursement from insurance companies for health care provided after individuals were in car accidents. Those claims involve balances owed to the state ranging from a few thousand dollars to more than $100,000.

Goyke said the committee never should have brought those kinds of settlements under its purview.

“When (Republicans) drafted the lame-duck, did they really want to settle car accidents?” Goyke said. “That can’t possibly work.”

According to the DOJ, the stalemate is also holding up legal action on several cases that could net the state millions of dollars.

Those cases include one 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.

In addition to those relatively small settlements, the state could soon face decisions involving large settlement negotiations in multi-state lawsuits. Those lawsuits include challenges to pharmaceutical manufacturers over their role in the nationwide opioid epidemic.

NPR reported last week that Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Endo International and Allergan are currently holding settlement talks with attorneys general across the country.

The Democrats’ plan faces almost certain failure in the Republican-controlled Legislature, which approved the new law less than a year ago.

Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, who co-chairs the Legislature’s budget-writing committee, said Wednesday he does not support repealing or changing the law.

The conflict comes as GOP lawmakers have also sued Kaul over the law, arguing he hasn’t followed its requirements for settlement approvals or properly handed over settlement earnings. That case is pending before the state Supreme Court, which is also controlled by conservatives.

Listen to the WPR report here.

Democrats Propose Repealing Lame-Duck Requirement On Legal Settlements was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

Categories: Politics

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