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AG to ask Republican lawmakers to sign off on 4 settlements

By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Attorney General Josh Kaul was poised Tuesday to ask lawmakers to approve four more legal settlements under Wisconsin’s lame-duck laws.

Kaul, a Democrat, was scheduled to present possible settlements to the Legislature’s Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee to resolve cases involving agricultural pollution, landfill violations, a petroleum spill and deceptive housing practices. The deals would bring $635,000 in total to the state.

The GOP-controlled Legislature passed laws during a lame-duck session in December 2018, just before Kaul took office, designed to weaken him and Gov. Tony Evers. The laws require Kaul to get permission from the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee before settling lawsuits.

The restrictions have been a bone of contention between the attorney general and Republicans. For months Kaul refused to discuss any possible settlements with the panel, citing litigants’ confidentiality. The impasse broke last year when Kaul began presenting case details to the committee with litigants’ consent. The committee approved the first settlement under the lame-duck laws in October, a deal that resolved a case against a Milwaukee mini-mart accused of selling synthetic cannabinoids.

Kaul and Republicans have yet to devise a protocol for discussing confidential litigation. State Department of Justice spokeswoman Gillian Drummond said the litigants in the four cases up for consideration Tuesday have agreed to release settlement terms publicly.

The first case involves Valley Beau Farms in Chippewa County. The DOJ sued the farm in May 2019, accusing it of allowing manure runoffs on three occasions and operating unsafe manure-storage centers. The farm and its owner have agreed to pay $15,000 to settle.

The second case involves violations at an Iron County landfill, including an alleged failure to close the landfill after waste disposal ended, operating the landfill without a certified operator, failing to conduct groundwater monitoring three times between 2016 and 2018 and failing to pay inspection fees since 2014. United Landfills of America Inc. and the landfill operator Marko Ruppe have agreed to pay $20,000 to settle.

In the third case, a property owner, Frank Gribble, has agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a 2015 lawsuit accusing him of filing to clean up a petroleum spill in Dane County. He also has agreed to clean up contamination. DOJ officials say the settlement must be reached as soon as possible to minimize environmental damage.

The last case centers on a 2017 lawsuit the state filed in Milwaukee County against Vision Property Management alleging false and deceptive business practices designed to induce people to rent or buy uninhabitable properties. The company has agreed to pay $500,000 to resolve the matter.

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