Democrats rip Wisconsin attorney general on rape kits, coins

By Todd Richmond, Associated Press

— Democrats on the Legislature's budget committee grilled Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel on Wednesday about everything from why hundreds of untested sexual assault kits are sitting on police shelves to why he spent $10,000 on coins emblazoned with "Kicking Ass Every Day."

Schimel appeared before the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee to answer questions on the state Department of Justice's portion of Gov. Scott Walker's proposed 2017-19 budget. But the committee's four Democratic members turned the session into an airing of their party's long-standing problems with Schimel, peppering him with criticism for two-and-a-half hours.

Rep. Katrina Shankland, of Stevens Point, began by questioning Schimel about why thousands of untested sexual assault evidence kits have gone untested.

More than 6,000 untested kits were sitting on Wisconsin shelves in 2014. A USA Today Network investigation in 2015 found at least 70,000 untested kits nationwide.

Schimel explained the kits were never tested because prosecutors may have felt a case was too weak to continue or victims may have refused to cooperate. Police have since realized the kits could yield offender DNA profiles, triggering a push for testing, he said. The DOJ has sent 450 kits to a lab for testing so far and is sending about 200 kits in monthly, he said.

Shankland also took Schimel to task for not slapping polluters with more fines. She pointed specifically to a settlement the DOJ reached with 3M Co. in November that called for the company to improve pollution control equipment that failed at two Wausau plants but didn't impose a fine.

"I'm concerned with the precedent you're setting by letting polluters off the hook," Shankland said.

Schimel countered that he wants to fix problems rather than impose fines. The 3M settlement will make the state cleaner and healthier, he said.

"We leveraged concessions out of them we wouldn't have gotten if we'd just gone forward and gotten a forfeiture," he said.

Shankland wasn't done. She chided Schimel for joining multi-state lawsuits challenging former President Barack Obama's initiatives, including his health care overhaul and provisions to combat climate change. She called those lawsuits an abuse of tax money.

Schimel maintained that he has to fight federal overreach so that Wisconsin can decide its own future.

Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, ripped Schimel for defending the state's voter photo identification law and a law that required abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Schimel said that's his job and if he chose not to defend them the state would have had to hire outside counsel at a higher cost.

That sparked a debate over why Republicans who control the Legislature have hired an outside firm to represent them in a legal fight over GOP-drawn legislative district boundaries. A panel of federal judges has found the boundaries unconstitutional and ordered lawmakers to redraw them. Schimel has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court but the GOP legislators have hired their own attorneys at taxpayer expense.

Schimel said it's not uncommon for multiple attorneys to get involved in cases before the Supreme Court. Hintz asked if there should be cap on how much the state should pay such outside firms; Schimel said that's a legislative decision.

The Democrats also blasted Schimel for spending $10,000 to produce 2,000 coins emblazoned with "Kicking Ass Every Day." Schimel said he hands the coins out as morale boosters.

He said he came up with the motto after deciding the DOJ's previous slogan, "We Exist to Assist," didn't motivate anyone. He did say he didn't know the coins cost $10,000 and he had put in "higher levels of approval" before such expenditures are made. He didn't elaborate but said he didn't think he would buy any more coins because he has enough.

Sen. Lena Taylor of Milwaukee told Schimel she needs him to lead, not $10,000 in coins.