Wisconsin's anti-union bill headed to state high court

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 24, 2011 5:07 PM

MADISON, Wis (Reuters) - The battle over Wisconsin's new law curbing the union rights of public workers is headed for the state Supreme Court after a lower court declined to weigh in on the issue.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals, which had been asked to throw out a week-old order temporarily blocking the law's implementation, said the issues involved were so fundamental -- a clash between the state's open meetings law and the separation of legislative and judicial powers -- that it made sense to send the case straight to state's highest court.

"Because this appeal presents significant issues, we believe the Supreme Court is the proper forum," the court wrote in its holding.

The law in question strips teachers, highway workers, nurses and other public employees of collective bargaining rights they have enjoyed for 50 years here.

Last Friday, a judge in Dane County, where the state Capitol building is located, granted a restraining order stopping official publication of the bill, which was passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by its Republican Governor Scott Walker last week.

The judge's ruling did not overturn the law but effectively blocked it while she considered a lawsuit filed by the Dane County district attorney, who has argued Republican lawmakers violated state open meetings laws by failing to give adequate notice of the vote.

The state turned around and asked the Wisconsin Court of Appeals to throw out the restraining order, arguing the Dane County judge had overstepped and encroached on areas that belong to the legislative branch of the government. It is that request the court sent up to the Supreme Court on Thursday.

In a statement, Rep. Pete Barca, the top-ranking Democrats in the state Assembly, said "it is good to see the courts are taking what I believe is a deliberate violation of the open meetings law on the part of Republican legislative leadership, very seriously."

Hannah Huffman, a spokeswoman for Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he had no immediate comment. A spokesman for Governor Walker did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

(Writing by James B. Kelleher; additional reporting by Jeff Mayers)