MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature’s finance committee scuttled a meeting Wednesday to discuss settling seven lawsuits with Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul as the two sides continued to squabble over confidentiality agreements.
Republicans passed a law in a December lame-duck session that requires Kaul to get the finance committee’s permission before settling lawsuits. But Kaul is refusing to discuss any cases with the panel unless committee members sign non-disclosure agreements.
The committee’s GOP leaders have opposed signing such agreements, saying meeting in closed sessions guarantees confidentiality and that Kaul shares information about cases with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers freely. The panel tried to meet with Kaul last week to discuss a potential settlement of an unknown case but the session collapsed after Kaul refused to talk to them.
Republicans hired attorney Andrew Phillips last week to represent the committee. Phillips signed a confidentiality agreement on the committee’s behalf. The panel scheduled a meeting with Kaul for Wednesday afternoon to discuss settling seven minor lawsuits involving state liens of injury awards to repay Medicaid for treatment.
But Kaul’s office said it still had questions about whether the agreement Phillips authored would guarantee secrecy, arguing it doesn’t bind individual committee members from talking. State Department of Justice officials met with Phillips on Wednesday morning but department spokeswoman Gillian Drummond said after the meeting that Kaul isn’t satisfied with the current agreement and there’s no reason to think individual members are bound to secrecy.
Republican Rep. John Nygren, a finance committee co-chair, announced the meeting with Kaul had been canceled about an hour before it was set to begin.
“We tried to find an alternative,” Nygren said. “He’s kind of the one throwing up roadblocks. We’ve shown a willingness to meet regularly. The ball’s kind of in his court now.”
Department of Justice records indicate that as of last month, 16 cases with millions of dollars at stake are in limbo as a result of the lame-duck law.
Kaul said in a statement that the lame-duck law is an “unmitigated disaster” and should be repealed.
“There has been delay after delay from the Joint Finance Committee when it comes to setting up a workable review process and reviewing proposed resolutions,” Kaul said. “Although it’s now September, JFC still hasn’t figured out a way to ensure that confidential information will remain confidential.”
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