Judge temporarily blocks Wis. union law

/ Source: The Associated Press

A Wisconsin judge issued a temporary restraining order Friday blocking the state's new and contentious collective bargaining law from taking effect, raising the possibility that the Legislature may have to vote again to pass the bill.

Lawmakers had passed Gov. Scott Walker's measure last week, breaking a three-week stalemate caused by 14 Senate Democrats fleeing to Illinois. Demonstrations against the measure grew as large as 85,000 people.

The law bars most public employees from collective bargaining. Pushed by the Republican governor, the bill was aimed at plugging a $137 million state budget shortfall. A part of the measure also would require state workers to increase their health insurance and pension contributions to save the state $30 million by July 1.

Dane County District Judge Maryann Sumi granted the restraining order in response to a lawsuit filed by the district attorney alleging that Republican lawmakers violated the state's open meetings law by hastily convening a special committee before the Senate passed the bill.

Sumi said her ruling would not prevent the Legislature from reconvening the committee with proper notice and passing the bill again.

Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie would not comment on whether the governor would push to call the Legislature back to pass the bill again, either in its current form or with any changes. Werwie said Walker was confident the bill would become law in the near future.

"This legislation is still working through the legal process," Werwie said.

Opponents of the law were hopeful the judge's ruling would lead to concessions.

"I would hope the Republicans would take this as an opportunity to sit down with Democrats and negotiate a proposal we could all get behind," said Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach, one of the 14 senators who stayed in the neighboring state of Illinois for three weeks in an attempt to stop the bill from passing.

The head of the state's largest teachers union said the Legislature should use this as a chance to listen to opponents of the measure, not vote to pass the same bill again.

"Wisconsin's educators call upon the Legislature to take this as a clear signal that Wisconsinites will not tolerate backroom deals and political power plays when it comes to our public schools and other valued services," said Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne filed the lawsuit this week alleging the open meetings law was violated because 24 hours' notice wasn't given for a meeting of the special legislative committee convened to amend the bill.