By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The state Senate voted Tuesday to pay $217,499 to a Hudson steel company whose CEO donated to the Republican senator who introduced the bill to provide the money.
J & L Steel and Electrical Services said it was owed the money for expenses related to a dispute over bid requirements for installing a visual new nurse call system at the Wisconsin Veterans Home in Chippewa Falls in 2011.
The bid called for a specific system to be installed. The state Department of Administration did not approve an alternate system J & L Steel used as a basis for its bid. The company said the state was interpreting the bid incorrectly. Its claim is based on increased bidding costs, witness fees, and attorneys’ fees incurred as a result of the state’s interpretation.
The state DOA rejected the claim. On a 2-2 vote in May, the claims board concurred and said the company should take its case to court.
Instead, Republican Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, took the unusual step of introducing a bill to pay the company despite the claims board decision. She said the J & L Steel, which is located in her district, deserved the money because the alternate nurse call system it selected would have cost less and saved taxpayers money. J & L ultimately installed the system called for in the bid.
“They made a very good case for why they shouldn’t have to eat that loss,” Harsdorf said in an interview following Tuesday’s debate.
J & L Steel’s owner and CEO LouAnne Berg donated $2,070 to Harsdorf since 2008, according to an online database maintained by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The database also shows Berg gave Gov. Scott Walker $650 over the past two years and $125 to Republican Sen. Terry Moulton, of Chippewa Falls, in 2010.
Berg did not immediately respond to an email sent Tuesday seeking comment.
Harsdorf said the donations didn’t play any role in her decision to seek the money for the company.
“If I didn’t feel they had a good case, I wouldn’t have brought it forward for legislation,” Harsdorf said.
Democrats argued that the Legislature shouldn’t override decisions of the claims board.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton. “We’re bypassing the process here.”
The Senate approved the bill 20-12. Two Democrats, Sens. Jen Shilling, of La Crosse, and Bob Wirch, of Racine, joined all Republicans in voting for it. The bill now heads to the Assembly.