MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Having declared that Wisconsin’s divisive union law isn’t really a law yet, a judge was set to return to one of the underlying questions dogging the measure — whether Republicans violated the state’s open meetings law during the frenzied run-up to passage.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s administration reluctantly suspended efforts to enact the law Thursday after Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi unexpectedly declared the measure hadn’t been properly published. The move marked another round in a messy legal fight over the law, which requires most public workers to pay more for their benefits and strips away most of their collective bargaining rights.

Democrats and unions have filed three lawsuits challenging the law. Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne’s action has taken center stage so far; he alleges Republicans didn’t provide the proper public notice when it convened a special committee to amend the plan before its passage.

Sumi earlier issued an emergency restraining order blocking the secretary of state from publishing the bill while she considered the case, but Republicans persuaded another state office to publish it, raising questions about whether the law was in effect. Sumi settled that unequivocally with her declaration early Thursday morning: No.

The judge is scheduled to take more testimony on the open meetings allegations on Friday. It’s unclear when Sumi may rule, but any decision almost certainly will trigger a storm of appeals that could stretch to the state Supreme Court.

“Either Judge Sumi will have lifted the (emergency order) … or, what I consider the more likely outcome, she’ll issue an injunction and we’ll all be in the position of waiting for the Supreme Court to say something,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison law professor Bernard Schweber.

State Justice Department attorneys contend the Senate’s internal rules trump the open meetings law. Sumi’s authority is limited to constitutional questions; an open meetings violation doesn’t rise to that level, they say. Plus, they argue, Ozanne can’t sue Republican legislators because state lawmakers are immune from civil actions while the Legislature is in session.

Ozanne’s witness list includes members of the Senate chief clerk’s staff, who will presumably testify about efforts they took to notify the public about the special committee meeting, as well as a Madison man who claims he wasn’t allowed into the chamber where the committee met because it was full of people.

The collective bargaining law has been a flashpoint of contention since Walker introduced it in mid-February. Under the law, most public sector workers must contribute more to their pensions and health care, changes that amount to an 8 percent pay cut. The measure also prohibits them from collectively bargaining on all work conditions except wage increase up to the rate of inflation.

Walker has said the law is needed to help the state balance a $137 million deficit and give local governments enough flexibility with their employees to withstand deep cuts in state aid coming in the next two-year budget.

Democrats see the law as an attempt to weaken unions, which are among the party’s strongest campaign supporters. Tens of thousands of people turned up at the state Capitol for protests that went on for three weeks, and Senate Democrats fled to Illinois to block a vote in that chamber.

To get around that roadblock, Republicans called a special committee meeting on March 9 and stripped the fiscal elements out of the bill, enabling the Senate to vote without the Democrats. The Assembly passed the bill the next day, and Walker signed it into law on March 11.

Republicans now must choose between waiting for the legal challenge to be resolved or trying to pass the measure again. Republicans appear reluctant to take that route, which would almost certainly re-ignite demonstrations and Democratic filibusters.

“We did it correctly and legally the first time, and we have confidence that the constitution shows that separation of powers actually means something,” said Andrew Welhouse, a spokesman for Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

Republicans also must contend with lawsuits from Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and a group of public sector unions. Both lawsuits argue the law still contains fiscal components, meaning the Senate needed a full quorum to vote.

“The administration needs to win everything,” said University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political scientist Mordecai Lee. “Its opponents only need to win one. In a sense, you’d say advantage unions.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (39)
  1. Why fight? says:

    Just fire the number of employees to make up the shortfall. Case closed.

    1. Mike says:

      Why fight?-You are right, but the employees who will be looking for a new job will be the Republicans who are thrown out of office from recall!

      1. Recall? says:

        Good Luck on the recall Mike. This is about over paid public union employees not contributing enough to their own health and retirement. If the Democrats want to hold this up in the courts its time to send out the lay off notices. Gee what would we do with a few less people in government?

        1. So you are pro-dictatorship, huh? says:

          Gee, what about sitting down at the negotiations table like grownups instead of acting like the Reichstag under Hitler?

          1. Matt says:

            Like grown ups?

            You mean like when the unions use dues to get their candidate elected, then hold it over their head when negotiating “In good faith”

            What Walker and the GOP did in Wisconsin is the definition of negotiating like grown ups because it will force public employees like most private employees to earn their benefits.

            1. No Bull says:

              My dues are my money. You can give to whoever you want. Are you saying you want to tell me how I spend my money? Presumptuous aren’t we?

              Oh and the US Chamber of Commerce doesn’t give any money to candidates to further their goals.

              1. stratman says:

                No Bull…you’re already being told how to spend your money.

          2. Recall? says:

            The republicans tried to sit down at the table but the democrats ran to Illinois because they didnt like the topic of discussion.

      2. Why fight? says:

        Mike, voting is a wonderful thing… you’ll have your chance to fire the Republicans next election. My sense is there is more support for Walker than people realize. Dems have a way of making their wheel of choice squeak and are having a hard time that things aren’t going their way. If Republicans retain control after the next election it validates their course of action. Maybe the Dems will skip town again?

        Collective bargaining is a red herring… public employees “right” to collective bargaining is governed separately by each state. Wisconsin has the power to eliminate it. This is a budget crisis… simple math: Cut the fat through bene redux and keep the employees vs. fire the employees.

        Time to fire the employees.

        1. Try this tough guy says:

          Fire yourself. Your arguments are weak and have little merit. Tell you what – walk up to a highway worker and explain to him that he’s overpaid, over benefited, shouldn’t have the right to collectively bargain and that you think he should be fired.

          But first, tell me where to send the flowers.

          1. Tired says:

            Would you ask him while he’s leaning on the shovel or taking his next scheduled break?

          2. Why fight? says:

            Try this tough guy, I get that you disagree with my comment but be more specific. Exactly which arguments have little merit? It’s hard to dispute the fact that your vote matters, that the Dem legislators skipped town when things weren’t going their way, that each State can say yes or no to collective bargaining for public employees, and a budget shortfall where labor cost is a major component.

            A ‘tough’ highway worker’s willingness to hurt me for asking tough questions doesn’t change my mind.

        2. scott says:

          I voted for walker but wouldnt vote for him again.He is right in a point that the people want smaller goverment. And that should start with all the people working with him in the capital and all the senators and everyone that we are giving a free ride. The teachers have already said they would take less money. Leave there union rights alone. They voted the union in and only they should be able to vote it out.

        3. Math? says:

          If it is REALLY about the budget why are the republican’s cutting taxes?
          You can’t take away pay from the Govt workers in the name of the budget on one hand and then cut taxes on the other? Or I guess you can if your a republican

  2. GOP Thugs says:

    Walker and his minions ran for office on a platform to cut the budget, but not one of them mentioned gutting the public employees unions. Then they rammed through legislation without holding a single public hearing. While the Democratic senators were defending democracy by sitting in Illinois and refusing to be part of a kangaroo legislature, GOP senators did an end run around the heart of the bill and passed it by an 18 – 1 margin, thus sending it on to Herr Walker.

    Democracy is not thuggery. It requires honesty and willingness to do what is best for all. Walker and his Republi-zombies walk to the beat of the Koch brothers and their robber baron vision of America.

    1. Matt says:

      Wow coming from a Democrat this is pretty short sited.

      I hate the politics, but actions and elections have consequences. We saw the same issues at the federal level in 2008 and people were annoyed so they brought in the GOP.

      The major difference is the GOP didn’t hide under the blankets or run away they stood up, voted in the minority and took back control. If this isn’t what the people want then let the next election dictate it and if the DFL gets a majority than can extend the privilege of collective bargaining back to the unions.

      To call the GOP a bunch of thugs is no better than Harry Reid calling the Tea Party extremists for demanding a balanced budget. If anyone is an extremist in this country it’s those who demand everything from the government and cry and call people thugs when they don’t get it.

      1. And the Founding Fathers wept says:

        You’ve got to be kidding. All I’ve been reading about is how the unions are thugs. Was your third grade teacher a thug?

        You also avoided addressing Walker’s “secret” agenda and his refusal to allow hearings and negotiations. Must be nice to have it both ways, your way but not the American way

        1. Matt says:

          Give me a break, when did I call a union a thug? I called GOP thug a thug for inaccurately suggesting that the GOP was thugging the people.

          As for your idiotic assertions that Walker has a secret agenda to root out all of the unions, what about the 6-8 other states on the same course? This is the result of the election, just like Obama saying he is pulling out all the troops from the middle east, but has increased out engagement in Afghanistan and now Libya. I don’t like it, but that’s his bed to sleep in come the next election cycle. Just as this will be Walkers come the next election cycle.

          Just because you don’t like it doesn’t make it thuggery.

        2. Matt says:

          Sorry, I forgot to mention what in the world would be the point in debating in more detail a bill that he has the support to pass and he knows that the liberal stance is? Posturing? I give him credit for being strait forward and not wasting tax payer money by bickering over it.

          I assume you are another liberal who didn’t get their way and will go cry about it. Go out, and change it the next time there is an election.

      2. TG says:

        Harry Reid isn’t calling the Tea Party Extremists because for “demanding a balanced budget” he’s calling them estremists because they like most Right wing Republican’s want to cut spending in the name of fixing the budget then turn around and give tax breaks to companies and the rich.. when you make cuts in spending and follow it up with tax breaks like that you are gaining no ground on the budget “that you claim to be trying to fix”

        If you want to cut spending thats fine!! just don’t turn around and cut taxes after that..

    2. stratman says:

      Am I the only one that found the “letter” sent out by the WI public unions to busniess owners on Wednesday appauling & hypocritical.

      This is one issue I can’t really feel sorry for the public sector.

    3. Tracey says:

      It’s funny how you bring up the Koch brothers and there political donations. Is it not there money? Last time I checked, they can do whatever they want with it.

      Funny how the AFL-CIO donated 23 million dollar last year to democratic candidates. Only 13,000 dollars went to republicans.

      So let me get this straight, the democrats can get money from the unions to spread there agenda, but when the republicans do it is an crime.

      Look at WI. Right now the unions are sending out letters to companies saying that if they don’t side with them, they will boycott there business.

      That sounds REAL democratic to me.

      Clean up your own backyard before knocking on your neighbors door.

  3. Keep fighting says:

    This is a simple issue of entielement mentality and insisting on more than your are worth. I can’t wait for the layoffs to come and the underworked, former public union employees have to compete with the better caliber private sector worker. The law will ultimately become effective and I hope to see former public sector employees on the streets begging for the means to survive.

    1. Citizen says:

      The definition of “entitlement” is getting something for free. These workers pay for their benefits with their work. I’ve worked both public and private sector, so I have seen both sides. Workers, both public and private, are just being pitted against each other to benefit large corporations and the wealthy. The agenda being furthered in this country by having the middle class fight itself is two-pronged: one, a smaller government is less able to catch tax cheats (individual or corporate), and two, the GOP wants to weaken labor unions who traditionally support Democrats so it can take over more governorships. All you anti-union, anti-government people better think hard about weakening government and what those consequences will be for your security and quality of life.

      1. Keep fighting says:

        Citizen you hit it on the head. The difference between the private sector and the public, union lavish benefits and insulting-to-the-rest-of-us pensions is the entitlement mentality. Of course using the word rights is insulting as well. You can argue all day long but right is right and wrong is wrong. We shall let history decide. The chickens always come home to roost. In the case of the public unions, it has taken a while but they are coming. These arguments you pose aren’t even as good as my smallest child would make because even they know an argument based on what is basically a lie can’t hold water long. Being a liberal must be such a freeing experience. Ignore all logic, economics and lie to yourself and hope others follow by putting them on the dole.

        1. Citizen says:

          @Keep fighting. What specifics are “right is right” and “wrong is wrong?” You make a lot of generalizations. How about some facts. If you read any literature past these blogs, you would know that ALL workers, public and private, pension or no, are really getting screwed over by the wealthy and large corporations. There are two ends to the economic bone in this country: the very wealthy, and everybody else–whether they are public or private workers. ALL WORKERS should be standing in solidarity against the wealthy and the corporations–not fighting each other. By the way, I’m not a liberal, and because you accuse me of that, you obviously don’t understand the true definition of a liberal. I am an old-fashioned populist dating to the turn of the 19th century. Go look that word up. Get back to me on that.

          1. stratman says:

            Citizen, are you implying that the middle class private sector is paying a majority of the public sector wages?

  4. Average Joe says:

    I love it. The Judge and the Democrats simply don’t want to accept the obvious facts.

    A Madison man is whining because he couldn’t get in the room because it was “full of people”.

    Well, if the room was “full of people” wouldn’t that indicate that the Republicans must have met the requirement of providing ‘notice ‘ for the special meeting.

    1. you mean below average joe says:

      NO it doesn’t public notice needs to be done in a specific way. you can’t tweet it and have a bunch of people show up and call it public notice… As illogical as that is.. thats the law.

  5. BUZZCUT says:

    The right thing to do to stop the court case is to bring it up for another vote. Seems reasonable and logical; however, the GOP are afraid that they don’t have the votes to pass it. Why, the threat of recalls is real.

    Do you really think the DFL would walk out again? I say no because it would hurt politically.

    So, here we sit with a dragged on legal battle.

    If Walker has support clamied by some, the “womanizer” judge will win the election. If not, we know recalls are next including the governor. That election will be huge in this heated issue.

  6. Sandy says:

    Pay your fair share! I now hate all government workers… ALL! What a greedy bunch of lazy jerks. Get rid of them all.

    1. Annoyed says:

      That’s a pretty bold statement, coming from somebody who probably relies on government workers daily. My husband is a public union employee and he is anything but greedy or lazy. Maybe do a little research before speaking on a subject you obviously know nothing about? If you get rid of them all, who is going to plow your sreet? Who is going to fix the road you drive on? Please do tell, I would really like to know…

      1. stratman says:

        I think the public sector is being fairly compenstaed. But any collective bargaining should be deemed not for profit (meaning little or no union dues) and the negotiations should be done strictly at a local gov’t level.

      2. Me says:

        Oh no, haven’t you heard? No public workers work, pay taxes or contribute to their 401k or pension or health insurance. The burnt out street lights change themselves. The parks pick up their own trash. Cars title themselves. It’s all good.

        The last thing a Republican cares for is the Republic.

    2. Keep fighting says:

      Sandy, that is great. Finally we can now use the mantra “fair share”. It seems to be the Dems favorite slogan when talking about soaking anyone that actually truly pays taxes.

  7. jjr says:


  8. stratman says:

    Looks like the liberal crowd is starting to crack in WI.

    A Wisconsin woman, apparently enraged over the new state law that limits collective bargaining for government workers, is being accused of sending e-mails to 16 Republican state senators threatening to kill them.

    Katherine Windels, 26, faces four counts of using a computer to threaten, injure, or harm and creating a bomb scare, authorities said.

    1. Victim Du Jour says:

      And then they pretend make-believe Tea Party people are scary, out of thin air.

      1. stratman says:

        Woman seems pretty nutty.

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