The lame duck power grab passed by the Wisconsin GOP legislature, and signed into law last winter by then departing Republican Governor Scott Walker, is already proving to be an unworkable mess just mere months after it was enacted.
Some of the specific issues resulting from the changes that the Wisconsin GOP made to our state government were on full display in Madison this week.
Attorney General Josh Kaul called for a meeting with the Joint Finance Committee to discuss an ongoing multi-state lawsuit that Wisconsin is currently a part of. The meeting took place behind closed doors on Tuesday at the request of Republican lawmakers.
Under these new laws passed by the GOP, the State Attorney General is now required to consult with the State Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, and gain their permission before settling any lawsuits that the state is currently a part of. The reasons why the Republicans created these requirement are quite clear:
- The Republicans didn’t want a Democratic Attorney General to be able to use their constitutionally given power to challenge potentially unconstitutional laws that the Republicans have enacted during the eight years they had complete control over our state government, and
- they wanted to prevent the newly elected Attorney General from being able to withdraw the state from cases that the previous GOP Attorney General, Brad Schimel, had entered the state into before he departed from office.
In other words, they wanted to be able to tie the hands of the new Attorney General from being able to carry out the power and responsibilities that come with the office.
Attorney General Kaul would not discuss the merits of the case with them unless and until Republican lawmakers agreed to sign non-disclosure agreements first. Kaul cited confidentiality concerns as the reason for being unable to discuss the case with them if such disclosures were not signed.
He indicated that discussing a settlement in the case would involve the sharing of confidential information with lawmakers. Kaul didn’t want lawmakers to be able to publicly talk about these confidential details of the case after the meeting, something he believed they could have done had non-disclosure agreements not been signed. He also indicated that there would be “significant harm to the state if we don’t move forward” on the case.
The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council said that Kaul was right to ask the State Legislature to sign non-disclosure agreements first. Had he not done so, nothing under Wisconsin’s open records law would have prohibited “anyone who attended the session from talking about what was discussed.”
The GOP lawmakers and Kaul butted heads for over 90 minutes before concluding the meeting. Republicans refused to sign NDAs, and also refused to give the AG permission to settle the case.
On Thursday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did a deeper dive into how this GOP power grab was affecting other lawsuits that our state is involved in. They discovered that there are over 12 cases on hold right now because Republican lawmakers can’t agree on how to settle the cases, or on how to carry out their newly appointed powers properly. This comes at a time where “billions of dollars are on the table for states suing over the opiod crisis -including Wisconsin.”
As this shows, the Republican power grab is not only on shaky, at best constitutional grounds (they likely violate the separation of powers between the Executive Branch and the Legislature by reassigning executive branch power to the legislature). It’s also proving to be completely unworkable for our state government.
With the Attorney General unable to exercise the powers of the office, our state has unable to settle several lawsuits. This will not only cost taxpayers potentially more money, it will significantly slow down and hinder our court system as well.
We must undo these laws immediately. Otherwise, our state government will continue to be a completely dysfunctional mess. Contact your state lawmakers today!