March 29, 2011- The showdown over Wisconsin’s explosive union bargaining law shifted from the Statehouse back to the courthouse on Tuesday, but it remained unclear when or even whether the measure would take effect.
Republican lawmakers pushed through passage of the law earlier this month despite massive protests that drew up to 85,000 people to the state Capitol and a boycott by Democratic state senators. Opponents immediately filed a series of lawsuits that resulted in further chaos that might not end until the state Supreme Court weighs in.
That appeared even more likely after a hearing on Tuesday, when a Dane County judge again ordered the state to put the law on hold while she considers a broader challenge to its legality. She chastised state officials for ignoring her earlier order to halt the law’s publication.
“Apparently that language was either misunderstood or ignored, but what I said was the further implementation of (the law) was enjoined,” Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi said during a hearing. “That is what I now want to make crystal clear.”
Sumi is set to hear additional arguments Friday on the larger question of whether GOP legislative leaders violated the state’s open meetings law during debate on the measure. She also is considering Republican claims that the law technically took effect last weekend after a state agency unexpectedly published it online.
Whether she decides it did or didn’t become law on Saturday, the measure’s legitimacy will likely be decided by the state Supreme Court, which is already considering whether to take up an appeals court’s request to hear the case.
The back and forth amplified the often angry debate between new Gov. Scott Walker, his Republican allies in the Legislature and the state’s public sector unions.
Walker and the GOP have aggressively pushed forward their effort to remove the bargaining rights of state workers, using a surprise parliamentary maneuver to break a weeks-long stalemate to get it passed and then finding another route to publish the law after Sumi’s order blocked the secretary of state from doing so.
State Department of Justice spokesman Steve Means said the agency continues to believe the law was properly published and is in effect.
Wisconsin Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch, Walker’s top aide, issued a statement saying the agency will evaluate the judge’s order.