By Jason Stein, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON - Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel and state agents may keep "kicking ass every day," but they won't be celebrating that with more gold-plated coins.
The Republican attorney general told lawmakers Wednesday that he wouldn't again spend thousands of dollars for challenge coins to hand out to staff and law enforcement, which Journal Sentinel columnist Daniel Bice first reported on in January. Those 2,000 coins at nearly $5 apiece carry the motto that Schimel fashioned for his agency: "Kicking Ass Every Day" — or KAED, as he likes to sign off his emails to staff.
"The amount that was spent wasn't vetted. I didn't know it was that much money," Schimel said of the coins, adding he's put in place safeguards on future spending. "I wouldn't do it the same way."
Schimel and Veterans Affairs Secretary Daniel Zimmerman separately came before the Legislature's budget committee Wednesday as the panel considers funding for their respective agencies over the next two years.
The attorney general cautioned Joint Finance Committee members that law enforcement officers still need some form of recognition for their difficult work. Schimel pointed to the death last week of Everest Metro Police Detective Jason Weiland, who was killed responding to a shooting spree in the Wausau area that left two bank employees and an attorney dead.
The 1.75-inch, gold-plated brass souvenirs carry the state seal and read "Wisconsin Attorney General Brad D. Schimel" on one side and "Wisconsin Department of Justice: K.A.E.D." on the other.
Challenge coins are common in military and law enforcement groups and have been used by officials such as former GOP Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen as a way to recognize achievement.
Democrats on the budget panel questioned the spending by Schimel, but Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) told Schimel: "Given that your job is public safety, I have no problem with you kicking ass every day."
The Department of Justice paid nearly $10,000 in taxpayer money to Lexington Metal Products Corp. in Lithia, Fla., for the commemorative coins over the past 1 1/2 years. Overall since 2013, DOJ officials under Van Hollen and Schimel have paid
Schimel has requested more funds in the next budget for officer training, prosecuting internet crimes against children and operating treatment alternatives and diversion programs.
Separately, Schimel stopped short Wednesday of backing a GOP bill to let people in Wisconsin to carry concealed firearms without getting training or state permits.
"I have said many times we have nothing to fear from law-abiding gun owners, and our experience as a state since passage of our concealed carry law (in 2011) has proven that point," Schimel said in a statement. "Constitutional carry is certainly a reasonable legislative policy to consider, but this bill contains many provisions and we and our law enforcement partners are still assessing all of the details of this bill."
Schimel also defended the settlement of a 2016 environmental case where 3M Corp. paid no financial penalties for air pollution violations at two Wausau facilities in 2014 and 2015. Instead, the company was allowed to make $665,000 in improvements in two plants.
A former assistant attorney general told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel agency lawyers sought financial penalties against 3M but said a top Schimel aide directed the staff not to seek penalties and demand upgrades instead.
“I’m concerned about the precedent you’re setting, letting polluters off the hook,” said Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point.)
“For me, this is an easy call,” Schimel said. “We didn’t think that a forfeiture going into the school fund was as significant as getting them to permanently improve the environment and save jobs in Wausau.”
Also Wednesday, Zimmerman, the state's new Veterans Affairs secretary, said he was committed to addressing challenges such as funding shortfalls in the state veterans trust fund, suicides by veterans and allegations of poor staffing, facilities and care at the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King.
Zimmerman, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Iraq War veteran, told the budget panel that he has an office at King and visits there once or twice a week to get a handle on problems, giving the example of how he went into basements of campus buildings with pipefitters and other tradesmen to scout out needed upgrades.