MADISON, Wisconsin (Reuters) - A Wisconsin state judge on Thursday issued a terse response to Republican Governor Scott Walker's moves to implement a new law reducing the powers of most public sector unions, saying it had not taken effect.
The ruling adds another twist to the political wrangling over Wisconsin's state budget, which sparked massive pro-union demonstrations and made Madison the epicenter of a national debate over similar proposals in several states.
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi had issued a temporary restraining order enjoining publication of the law by the secretary of state in mid March while she heard an appeal over the way the lawmakers approved the legislation.
The Walker administration began to implement the changes encompassed by the law, however, contending the scope of her order was unclear and the law had taken effect last week when it was published by the Legislative Reference Bureau.
State Administration Department secretary Mike Huebsch on Wednesday said he was obligated to administer the law, citing state Justice Department legal opinions that it was in effect and noted that Sumi's order had failed to state it was not.
On Thursday, Huebsch said the department would suspend implementation of the law based on Sumi's revised order, though it believed the bill was legally published and is law.
Sumi, who had warned at a hearing on Tuesday that sanctions were possible if her court order was defied, issued a two-page revised order on Thursday enjoining Democratic Secretary of State Doug La Follette from publishing the act.
"Based on the briefs of counsel, the uncontroverted testimony, and the evidence received" the act "has not been published ... and is therefore not in effect," Sumi wrote.
Wisconsin lawmakers' responses to the ruling underscored the deep divisions between state Republicans and Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald called Sumi's order "judicial activism at its worst."
"Once again, one Dane County judge is doing everything she can to stand in the way of our efforts to improve the economy and create jobs," Fitzgerald said in a statement.
Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, who had argued the drive to approve the bill violated open meeting laws, said, "I can only hope today's amended order is crystal clear enough for them to stop disregarding the rule of law."
Ohio lawmakers on Wednesday approved a bill to restrict collective bargaining rights for some 350,000 public employees and ban strikes, though opponents have time to gather support to put the measures to a referendum vote in November.
Similar legislation has been advanced in Tennessee, Michigan and other states this year.
(Reporting by Jeff Mayers and David Bailey; Editing by Jerry Norton)