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Lawmakers grill AG over rape kits, redistricting case

A powerful panel of state lawmakers on Wednesday grilled Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel for 2-1/2 hours on matters including the oversight of untested kits of sexual assault evidence, his purchase of $10,000 worth of coins and the work of the state’s solicitor general.

Schimel addressed the Joint Committee on Finance as part of a three-day marathon of agency briefings in Madison to answer lawmakers’ questions about the state’s next budget.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers questioned Schimel about a reported backlog in the processing of sexual-assault kits. A USA Today report found that in 2015 there were 70,000 untested kits. In 2014, 6,000 kits in Wisconsin remained untested.

Committee co-chair state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, asked how Schimel was handling those kits and how long it would take to process them.

“Some have characterized this as a backlog problem,” said Schimel. “There is not a backlog problem.”

He noted that the 6,000 kits had never been submitted to the state’s crime lab — for possibly valid reasons, including that prosecutors might be holding off because a suspect had confessed or a victim had chosen not to go forward with pressing charges.

“We should never, never go forward and test something from somebody’s body unless they give consent,” he said.

State Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, also asked questions about the kits, but criticized Schimel for a recent settlement reached with 3M over pollution violations. She noted that Schimel stated in response to a previous question that the state was “cooperating with 3M.”

“So you’re sending the message to polluters in Wisconsin that under your administration, polluters don’t have to pay — they get a deal,” Shankland said.

Schimel responded that cooperation requires mutual agreement and that he considered the settlement a victory because it encourages firms to submit reports on themselves.

Shankland also criticized the recently created solicitor general’s office, which Schimel oversees, noting that the five attorneys in that office have either filed or joined lawsuits challenging the federal government.

“Do you think that this is a good use of taxpayer money?”

Schimel responded that the solicitor general’s office also handles high-stakes lawsuits involving the state, including arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the Legislature.

Shankland and other Democratic lawmakers also grilled Schimel over his purchase of $10,000 worth of coins emblazoned with the slogan “Kick Ass Every Day” and the department’s hiring of a private law firm to handle the appeal of a federal court decision in a redistricting lawsuit.

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

About Erika Strebel, erika.strebel@wislawjournal.com

Erika Strebel is the law beat reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal and a law school student at UW-Madison. She can be reached at 414-225-1825.

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