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Lawmakers approve 3 legal settlements under lame-duck laws

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Legislature’s budget committee approved three legal settlements Wednesday under Wisconsin’s new lame-duck laws.

Republicans passed statutes in December 2018 designed to weaken Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul before he took office. The law requires him to seek permission from the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee before settling any lawsuits. Before the law passed, attorneys general were free to settle cases as they saw fit.

Kaul has refused to discuss possible lawsuits with the budget committee, citing litigants’ confidentiality. His stance has resulted in a stalemate that Kaul says could cost the state millions of dollars in settlement revenue.

This week, however, Kaul brought three possible settlements to the committee, saying the defendants had agreed the deals could be discussed publicly. The committee approved all three Wednesday morning.

In the first case, Dave’s Sewer Service in Waupaca, agreed to pay $39,000 to settle allegations it had improperly dumped sewage on hay crops.

In the second case, Superior Refining Co. agreed to carry out projects to offset excess emissions from a 2018 refinery explosion.

The third case involved the University of Wisconsin System regents’ lawsuit against former UW-Oshkosh officials Richard Wells and Tom Sonnleitner. They were accused of illegally funneling $11 million to the UW-Oshkosh Foundation to help it execute building projects and illegally promising to back foundation’ loans.

The foundation ultimately defaulted on the loans and filed for bankruptcy. Wells and Sonnleitner pleaded guilty last month to misconduct in office. The regents agreed to dismiss its case against Wells and Sonnleitner in exchange for their guilty pleas.

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