Tony Evers was sworn in as Wisconsin's new governor Monday. And fellow Democrat Josh Kaul took the oath of office as state attorney general.
At the inauguration, Kaul noted the atypical circumstances surrounding the event. He referred to action taken by Republican legislators in a lame-duck session in December.
“Last month, the powers of two of our state constitutional offices were diminished after the election for those offices had been held," he said. "That action — unprecedented in Wisconsin and designed to hinder our ability to do the jobs that the voters elected us to do — will have an impact.”
The lame-duck bills limit the authority of both Evers and Kaul. Despite the restrictions, Kaul plans to make progress, as he leads the state justice department.
“We will lead on public safety issues, and that will include advocating for policies that make our communities stronger," he said. "We’ll revitalize the Environmental Protection Unit and bolster our consumer protection efforts. And we will stand up against the federal government when we need to do so to protect Wisconsinites.”
A few days before the inauguration, Kaul spoke about his priorities with WUWM.
"So my top priority as attorney general is going to be working on public safety," he said. "One of [the areas to make progress] is our opioid epidemic."
He says the number of opioid-related overdose deaths went up in 2017 compared to the prior year.
"We need to start responding to that epidemic like the crisis it is," said Kaul. "So, I'm hoping to work with the Legislature to keep working to expand access to substance abuse treatment. I'm looking forward to working to ensure that pharmaceutical companies are held accountable for their role in the epidemic. And I also think we need to ensure that our enforcement efforts are targeting large-scale drug traffickers."
But Kaul also thinks there are other important public safety issues where the state needs to make progress. "I'd like to see Wisconsin enact a 'red flag law,' universal background checks, and I think we need long-term funding for mental health programs in schools," he said.
A "red flag law" is a statute that allows authorities to seize guns from people temporarily if a judge finds the gun owner to be a threat to themselves or others.
He also addressed Wisconsin's backlog of untested rape kits. "Now that kits have been tested, we need to ensure that where there is a DNA match that those cases are fully and thoroughly investigated," he said.
Kaul hopes to work with the legislature to prevent there being another backlog of untested rape kits in the state.