By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday defended signing a bill that he believes is partially unconstitutional and that every Democrat except one in the Legislature opposed, saying the measure will speed disbursement of settlement money with opioid manufacturers.
Evers’ decision to sign drew bipartisan praise at a news conference on Tuesday in Waukesha, from Republican Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow and Democratic Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley.
Crowley said the new law is key to unlocking money that counties desperately need to fight the opioid epidemic. He said he thought a settlement in the long-running national lawsuit against opioid manufacturers was “imminent.”
Under the law, which Evers signed Wednesday, the state must work with counties on settlements to lawsuits they have filed separately against opioid manufacturers and distributors. The law requires 70% of any settlement to go to local governments and 30% to the state. And all of the money would have to be spent on opioid abuse, no other government programs.
Evers said his primary reason for signing the bill was to ensure that money from any settlement gets to Wisconsin counties and municipalities quickly.
But he said he thought the requirement that the Legislature’s Republican-controlled budget committee sign off on any settlement is an unconstitutional violation of separation of powers. Evers also said he thought requiring committee approval will only slow disbursement of the money.
The Republican-controlled Legislature passed a law during a lame duck session in December 2010 that requires settlements entered into by the state Department of Justice to receive legislative approval.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court earlier this year refused to consider Attorney General Josh Kaul’s lawsuit challenging that requirement before it had been considered by lower courts. Kaul re-filed the lawsuit in June in Dane County Circuit Court. Republicans also sued Kaul in Polk County, arguing that he has been violating the law requiring him to get approval from the budget committee before entering into settlement agreements and depositing all money received in the state’s general fund.
The judge in the lawsuit brought by Republicans is scheduled to issue a ruling on July 22.
The Wisconsin Assembly passed the opioid settlement bill 60-38, with all Republicans in support and all Democrats against. The Senate passed it 19-11, with Democratic Sen. Lena Taylor joining all Republicans in support. All other Democrats voted against it.