Judge Maryann Sumi listens to arguments during a hearing Friday in Dane… (Associated Press )
A Wisconsin judge on Friday issued a temporary restraining order blocking the new state law that curbs collective bargaining rights for most public employees.
Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi granted the temporary order that prevents publication of the measure signed into law by Republican Gov. Scott Walker after weeks of protests and a boycott by Senate Democrats that turned the capital of Madison in a national political battleground on the issue of limiting public employee union power.
The judge was acting on a request by Dist. Atty. Ismael Ozanne, a Democrat, who had filed a lawsuit contending a legislative committee had violated Wisconsin's open meetings law by pushing the measure onto the floor. That maneuver was key in unblocking the legislative stalemate and allowing the bill to be signed by Walker on March 11.
"This legislation is still working through the legal process. We are confident the provisions of the budget repair bill will become law in the near future," Cullen Werwie, the governor's press secretary, said in a statement.
"Judge Sumi confirmed today what we knew all along – that the bill stripping hundreds of thousands of hardworking Wisconsinites of their voice on the job was rammed through illegally in the dark of the night," said Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO. "I'll definitely take it," said
Eddie Vale, political communications director for the AFL-CIO, the national labor federation that had fought Walker and the bill. "But the big caveat, of course, is that this is temporary. They can appeal the case. And they can also re-notice the meeting and hold another vote.
"So this doesn't end this fight at all," he said in an e-mail. "But every day this goes on, public turning against Walker, recalls getting more and more energy against the Republicans. They thought at least they had the vote behind them, but now have to do it all over again and get another whole round of bad coverage."
Facing budget deficits, recently elected Gov. Walker proposed increasing the employees' share of payments for healthcare and pension benefits. He also proposed a series of restrictions on collective bargaining rights for most public employees except police and firefighters. The unions said they would accept the increased payments, but they balked at the limitations on collective bargaining.
The proposals prompted weeks of demonstrations, some attracting as many as 80,000 unionists and their allies. All 14 Democratic state senators fled to Illinois, blocking consideration of the proposal because the GOP-controlled Senate lacked a quorum.
But Republican lawmakers eventually modified the bill and moved it quickly through committee and to votes in both chambers, where it easily passed.
After Walker signed the bill, Democrats and labor-union officials said they would sue to block implementation and launched petitions to recall some of the lawmakers who had voted for the bill. Conservatives also began circulating petitions to recall some of the Democrats who had fled.