Judge Maryann Sumi listens to arguments during a hearing Friday in Dane… (Associated Press )
A Wisconsin judge on Friday halted a controversial state law that would end most public employees' collective bargaining rights, ruling that the manner in which it was pushed through the Legislature violated the state's open-meetings law.
FOR THE RECORD:
Wisconsin unions: An article in Section A on March 19 about a judge suspending a Wisconsin law that limits collective bargaining for most public workers said Assembly Democrats had left the state over the issue. In fact, it was Democrats in the state Senate whose flight to Illinois deprived the majority Republicans of a quorum. —
Wisconsin officials said they would swiftly appeal the ruling by Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi, which came after the Dane County district attorney, a Democrat, filed a civil complaint that the Republican-dominated Legislature had violated state law when it passed the union bill last week.
The bill was held up for three weeks because Democrat senators fled to Illinois to deny the Senate the quorum needed to vote on budgetary measures. Senate Republicans last week took the union language out of Republican Gov. Scott Walker's budget-repair bill and passed it as a separate item that did not require such a quorum.
The measure then went to a conference committee meeting with House Republicans. Sumi found that legislators only provided two hours' advance notice of the meeting, instead of the 24 hours required by state law. She issued a temporary restraining order until she can rule on the case.
Sumi noted, however, that the Legislature could simply reconvene and pass the union measure again with adequate notice. Republicans on Friday were mum as to their next step.
"We are confident the provisions of the budget-repair bill will become law in the near future," Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said in a statement.
Democrats hailed Sumi's ruling.
"What happened in passing this legislation was an abuse of power and an abuse of the people's trust," Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said in a statement. Barca and the other House Democrats have returned to Wisconsin.
Walker's proposal to strip state and local government workers of collective bargaining rights set off weeks of massive demonstrations at the state Capitol in Madison and has sparked recall drives all around Wisconsin. The governor says the measure is needed to help close the state's $3.6-billion deficit.
Opponents note that unions have already agreed to the pay and benefit concessions Walker asked for and that the bill's main impact would be to virtually eliminate public sector unions, one of the biggest supporters of the Democratic Party. The law would not apply to police, state trooper and firefighters, whose unions are more likely to back Republicans.