Implementation of Wisconsin anti-worker law in limbo after judge’s ruling

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said on Friday that  he would begin enforcing recently enacted legislation that strips Wisconsin public workers of the right to collective bargaining despite a temporary injunction issued by a judge last week that halted implementation of the legislation.

Gov. Walker made the announcement after the  Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau published the anti-worker bill, which, according to Gov. Walker and other Republicans, makes the law official. But Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette said that the bill is not official yet because he has not designated a publication date and the bill cannot take effect until the secretary of state directs its publication in the Wisconsin State Journal.

On Tuesday of this week Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi rebuked state officials, who ignored her ruling last week that La Follette not publish the bill until the court has a chance to determine whether the Wisconsin Senate violated the state Open Meetings law when a hearing on the bill was held without proper notice.

She told state officials at the hearing that further implementation of the bill “was enjoined” and threatened sanctions against anyone who ignores her ruling, but an assistant attorney general representing the state said in the hallway after the hearing was over that the legislation is still in effect. The state’s Justice Department later backed off that statement when a spokesman for the agency said that the decision whether to implement the bill would be left up to the state’s Department of Administration.

Judge Sumi said that the Legislature could easily resolve this problem by taking up the bill again and passing it, but Republican leaders in the Legislature expressed no interest in doing so.

Earlier last week Sumi issued a temporary restraining order that instructed the secretary of state to refrain from publishing the bill until a hearing could be held on a complaint by local officials and a Democratic lawmaker that the anti-worker bill was passed illegally.  

The director of the Legislative Reference Bureau Stephen Miller said that he published the bill within ten days of its passage as he is required to do, but that his publication of the bill did not make it official. He said that in order for the bill to become law, the secretary of state has to direct publication of it.

But an aide to Mike Huebsch, director of the Department of Administration, which is charged with implementing the bill for Gov. Walker, said that Huebsch believes that the anti-worker bill has been legally published and that his office would “begin the process of implementing (the law).” 

Writing in Forbes, columnist Rick Ungar observed that “it’s now a toss-up between Wisconsin and Michigan in the race to see which state government can do the best job of thumbing its nose at our most basic democratic principles in order to force their autocratic desires on their citizens.”

In other developments, Laborers International Union of North America Local 236 and Firefighters Local 311 both of Madison filed suit on Friday alleging that Gov. Walker’s anti-worker bill did have a financial impact on the state and thus needed a three-fifths quorum for passage.

Democratic state senators had left the state to prevent the three-fifths quorum requirement needed for Gov. Walker’s original budget repair bill. The bill that subsequently passed stripped away most of the language that would have affected the budget but kept the portion that deprived public workers of their collective bargaining rights.

 It also included language that required state employees to pay more for their health insurance and pension benefits. Those particular pieces of the bill were to become effective on Sunday.

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