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Doyle budget limit landowners legal fees when going against utilities/transportation

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New Richmond, 54017
New Richmond Wisconsin 127 South Knowles Avenue 54017

The governor's new state budget would limit the legal fees awarded to landowners who challenge property offers for new roads and utilities.

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The state Transportation Department pushed for the measure, saying its payments for legal fees have more than doubled in the last five years.

Attorney Paul Nilsen says it's not so much about the money, as about the rise in what he calls a "cottage industry of litigators."

Nilsen says landowners are apparently being told not to negotiate with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, thus depriving the state of the information it needs to assess their land.

But Tom Kraeger, who headed a group that fought the new power line from Duluth to Wausau, calls it an effort to handcuff landowners who challenge the prices they're offered.

He says the cap on legal fees would essentially force landowners to take the initial offers they get, instead of forcing condemnation.

And in the case of the power line, Kraeger said the first offers were just pennies on the dollar.

Joint Finance Committee member Rep. Gary Sherman, D-Port Wing, says a cap on legal fees also caps a person's right to get a fair land price.

But for now, Sherman is not saying if he'll vote to drop the proposal when the finance panel takes up the budget.

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