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Wisconsin appeals judge's hold on collective bargaining law

By the CNN Wire staff
Demonstrators in Madison, Wisconsin, last week protested a new law that would curb collective bargaining rights.
Demonstrators in Madison, Wisconsin, last week protested a new law that would curb collective bargaining rights.
  • Republican attorney general files appeal to void judge's delay
  • The official says the judge has no jurisdiction over lawmakers
  • Wisconsin Senate Democrats contend that the bill's passage violated open meetings law

(CNN) -- Wisconsin's Republican attorney general on Monday appealed a judge's decision to halt the enactment of a controversial new law that curbs the collective bargaining rights of most state employees.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is asking the state's 4th District Court of Appeals to lift the temporary restraining order handed down Friday by Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi.

Sumi issued the injunction in response to a suit filed by a Democratic district attorney alleging that Republican legislators violated the state's open meetings law by calling a committee meeting to amend GOP Gov. Scott Walker's budget bill without providing the public 24-hour advance notice.

The amended bill, which had been stalled for weeks by 14 Democratic state senators who left Wisconsin to prevent a quorum -- and thus a vote on the measure -- then sailed to easy passage in both chambers of the Legislature.

In the appeal, Van Hollen argues that Sumi has no jurisdiction over state lawmakers or Wisconsin's secretary of state, all of whom have sovereign immunity. Sumi's order bars Wisconsin Secretary of State Douglas La Follette from publishing the new law.

"The (Wisconsin) Supreme Court has repeatedly held that a court may not void any act of the Legislature for alleged failure to follow a non-constitutional rule of legislative process," Van Hollen's brief states. "As applied to legislative acts, the Open Meetings law is such a rule of process."

In a separate news release, Van Hollen said, "the court may not interfere with the legislative process and enjoin the publication of a bill as the last step in the legislative process. ... Courts may only evaluate whether constitutional procedural requirements were met."

The public brouhaha over Walker's $137 million budget repair bill all but shut down the Wisconsin state Legislature for weeks. It also drew protesters by the tens of thousands, among them union supporters and public employees, who called the proposed measure an attack on workers.

GOP lawmakers countered that the law will help the state close a massive budget shortfall with a plan that requires public workers, with the exception of police and firefighters, to cover more of their retirement plan contributions and health care premiums.

Republican members of a conference committee on Walker's bill called a meeting March 9 to amend the bill. Over the objections of a Democratic House member, the lawmakers carved the governor's proposed curbs on collective bargaining out of Walker's budget legislation and passed them in a separate bill. That enabled Republicans to pass the bill out of the state Senate with fewer votes.

The state House of Representatives then easily passed the bill. Walker signed it into law on March 11.

Five days later, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, a Democrat appointed last year by then-Gov. Jim Doyle, also a Democrat, filed suit.