Wisconsin Judge Strikes Down Collective Bargaining Law

Posted: May 26, 2011 1:28 PM

No need to panic, folks; the ruling is based solely on a technicality and doesn't erode the substance of the law itself:

In a 33-page decision issued Thursday, Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi said she would freeze the legislation because GOP lawmakers on a committee broke the state's open meetings law in passing it March 9. The legislation limits collective bargaining to wages for all public employees in Wisconsin except for police and firefighters.

"It's what we were looking for," said Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, a Democrat.

Ozanne sued to block the law after Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) filed a complaint saying that GOP legislative leaders had not given proper notice to the public in convening a conference committee of lawmakers from both houses to approve Walker's budget-repair bill.

There are two possible remedies for this injunction.  First, Republicans could appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court, which -- as we are gloriously aware -- remains in conservative hands.  The Wisconsin legislature sets its own rules, and Republicans' actions in March were deemed to be compliant with those rules at the time by non-partisan legislative officers.  Republicans view this decision as a judicial intrusion onto the legislative branch's turf, and are therefore objecting to it based on separation-of-powers arguments:

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) responded in a statement. "There's still a much larger separation-of-powers issue: whether one Madison judge can stand in the way of the other two democratically elected branches of government. The Supreme Court is going to have the ultimate ruling, and they're still scheduled to hear the issue on June 6. This overdue reform is still a critical part of balancing Wisconsin's budget."

Second, the state Senate could simply re-pass the bill, which would nullify the basis for this ruling.  The GOP is reportedly considering doing exactly that -- and Democrats seemed resigned to let that happen (ie, they won't flee the state again):

Democrats widely expect Republicans in the state legislature to simply attempt to re-pass the measure as law, and this time, the Democratic state senators won't be leaving the state to slow down the process.

"There's nothing that we can do," said state Sen. Jim Holperin (D-Conover). "Republicans have the votes to do this, and if they choose to do it, they can and they will."

In other words, this judge's decision is a small blip on the radar screen.  Governor Walker's law -- which reduces state spending and debt, saves middle class jobs, and avoids adding to Wisconsinites' tax burden, all while mantaining more generous collective bargaining privileges for government workers than federal employees enjoy -- will remain in effect.