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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

 1:11 PM 

Senate bogged down on bill to pay electrical company claim

The Senate is spending some more time on motion to refer SB 280, which would pay $217,499 to J&L Steel and Electrical Services for a claim made against the state.

J&L brought a claim to the State Claims Board in May 2013 to be repaid for "increased bid costs," expert witnesses and attorney's fees for installation of a nurse call system. The argument over the claim stems from whether The Department of Administration miscommunicated a bid for the type of nurse call system that would be installed or whether J&L did not follow specifications of the bid. The Department of Administration urged denial of the claim, while claims board had a tie vote on whether to accept the claim.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said since the claims board did not approve the claim, it should not be before the Legislature. He said the bill was merely an attempt to sidestep the recommendations of the claims board.

"If we're going to pass this, then we should see a bill to eliminate the claims board," Erpenbach said.

Bill author Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, said the claims board did not side one way or the other and the company was only attempting to save the taxpayers money by installing an alternative nurse call system. J&L  Steel and Electrical is located in Hudson, which is in Harsdorf's district. Records from Wisconsin Democracy Campaign show J&L CEO Lou Anne Berg has donated $2,070 to Harsdorf since 2008.

"What we are sending out if we do not cover this claim, is we're basically discouraging companies from finding savings for taxpayers when they put in bids," Harsdorf said.

However, Harsdorf also said the Legislature needed to vote on the bill one way or another. She cited state statute to argue the company cannot begin legal action against the state until the Legislature rejects the bill handling the claim.

Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, motioned to refer the bill to committee, saying the Senate doesn't have enough information to pass judgment one way or another. Right now, Erpenbach is asking the chair whether referring the matter back to committee would constitute rejection by the Senate and allow legal action by the company.

UPDATE: For those curious, this bill was voted through on a 7-0 vote in the Senate Committee on Government Operations. Dems voting in favor of the bill were Sens. Nikiya Harris, Robert Wirch and Jennifer Shilling. According to the committee records, representatives from the company testified at a public hearing, but no one from DOA was present.

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