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Wis. judge freezes law on unions for now

Court considers legal challenge

By Todd Richmond and Scott Bauer
Associated Press / April 1, 2011

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MADISON, Wis. — A Wisconsin judge succeeded yesterday on what thousands of prounion protesters and boycotting Democratic lawmakers could not, forcing Republican Governor Scott Walker to halt plans to implement a law that would limit collective bargaining rights for most public workers and cut their pay.

Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi, who had issued an order intended to block implementation of the law while she considered a challenge to its legitimacy and warned of sanctions for noncompliance, amended her order yesterday to clarify that the law had not taken effect, as Republican leaders argued it had.

The governor’s top aide, Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch, later issued a statement saying Walker would comply with Sumi’s order and halt preparations to begin deducting money from most public workers’ paychecks. Huebsch, however, added that the governor’s administration still believes the law took effect after a state office published it online.

“While I believe the budget repair bill was legally published and is indeed law, given the most recent court action we will suspend the implementation of it at this time,’’ Huebsch said.

The law would require most public-sector workers to contribute more to their health care and pensions, changes that amount to an average 8 percent pay cut. The measure also strips them of their right to collectively bargain any work conditions except wages.

Walker signed the proposal into law late last month after weeks of large prounion protests in and around the state Capitol and after the Senate’s Democrats fled Wisconsin in an attempt to deny Republicans the quorum needed to vote on the measure.

Several lawsuits challenging the law are pending, including the one before Sumi. Filed by Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, the lawsuit contends that Republican legislative leaders violated the state’s open-meetings law in the run-up to a vote on the plan. Sumi issued an order blocking Secretary of State Doug La Follette from publishing the law, typically the last step before it can take effect while she considers the case.

But Republicans persuaded another state office to publish the law online last Friday and declared the law took effect the following day. The state Department of Administration has begun preparations to start taking the deductions out of state workers’ paychecks.

Sumi issued another restraining order Tuesday that reiterated her initial order. She warned anyone who violated it would face sanctions.

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