In his 2019-21 state budget address, Gov. Tony Evers proposed several reforms related to Wisconsin civil procedure. Most notably, the governor is seeking to reunify worker’s compensation under the Department of Workforce Development and to restore private individuals’ ability to bring qui tam claims by reviving the False Claims Act. Read about these and other notable budget provisions below.
Evers’s budget proposes unifying worker’s compensation proceedings under the Department of Workforce Development (DWD). The budget recommends moving disputed worker’s compensation claims from the Department of Administration Division of Hearings and Appeals to DWD. Evers also proposes attaching the Labor and Industry Review Commission (LIRC) to DWD. Currently, LIRC is attached to the Department of Administration.
Qui tam claims are claims initiated by private individuals on their own behalf and on behalf of the state. Prior to the 2015-16 budget repeal, Wisconsin’s False Claims Act allowed private individuals to bring qui tam claims against persons who make false claims for Medical Assistance. Individual plaintiffs could be awarded 25 to 30 percent of the money recovered as a result of the claim, in addition to attorney fees. Those found liable for false claims would owe treble damages.
In his Department of Justice (DOJ) proposal, Evers proposes creating a false claims with qui tam provision for individuals to bring actions on behalf of the state when fraud against state programs is alleged. The statement in this executive budget document includes Medical Assistance claims, but further expands qui tam beyond Wisconsin’s previous False Claims Act to allow actions against alleged fraud in any state program. The proposal provides that individuals may be awarded up to 30 percent of the amount recovered, depending on the extent of their contribution to the action, and attorney fees. Additionally, the proposal would conform state law to certain provisions of the federal False Claims Act.
Evers is proposing the repeal of parts of the 2018 extraordinary session legislation. Evers suggests a full repeal of Act 370 which gives the legislature oversight of agency waiver requests, allows Joint Finance Committee oversight of Medicaid program changes, and codifies Medicaid work requirements and substance abuse screening for FoodShare.
Evers also proposes repealing provisions of Act 369 including:
- The requirement that the legislature approve settlements by the attorney general.
- The requirement that the attorney general deposit all settlement funds into the general fund.
- The ability of the legislature to intervene in lawsuits involving the state.
- The ability of the legislature to obtain outside legal counsel.
- The definition and public transparency requirements for agency guidance documents.
- The requirement that agencies cite statutes supporting any interpretation of law they publicly provide.
In addition to eliminating the current requirement that all settlement funds go to the general fund, Evers proposes new appropriations for settlement funds in DOJ. These new appropriations include:
- An appropriation to administer and remit payments received by DOJ that are owed to relators (i.e. in qui tam actions).
- An appropriation to administer settlement funds where the terms of the settlement specify how the funds should be used.
- An appropriation to administer settlement funds where the terms of the settlement do not specify how the funds should be used. This appropriation may be used in DOJ at the attorney general’s discretion.
- A requirement that DOJ submit semiannual reports to the Joint Finance Committee on how settlement funds are spent.
Evers’s budget proposal does not restore funding or position authority to the Judicial Council. Former Gov. Scott Walker defunded the Judicial Council in the 2017-19 state budget after the Supreme Court sent an order to DOA that it will no longer transfer funds to DOA in support of the Judicial Council. While the Judicial Council lacks funding, the statute (Wis. Stat. § 20.670) creating the Judicial Council remains in place.
The Judicial Council’s proposed budget details performance measures and results from 2017 continuing into 2021. The Judicial Council’s goals for 2019, 2020, and 2021 include:
- Drafting and filing a Supreme Court petition to update rules regarding duty to preserve evidence in civil case.
- Reviewing ways to incorporate Federal Rules of Evidence into Wisconsin’s rules.
- Review modifications to the Rules of Civil Procedure created by 2017 Act 235 to update the act with Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.