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DA files lawsuit challenging Walker’s union law (UPDATE)

Associated Press

Gov. Scott Walker talks during a news conference Wednesday at the state Capitol in Madison. His budget repair bill is facing legal challenges. (AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal/John Hart)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican lawmakers violated Wisconsin’s open meetings law when they amended a contentious plan that bars most public employees from collective bargaining, a Madison prosecutor alleged in a lawsuit Wednesday.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne’s legal challenge is the second from a county official since Gov. Scott Walker signed the bill into law Friday. Ozanne filed his lawsuit after Democrats in the Wisconsin

Assembly alleged Republican leaders didn’t give enough public notice that a committee planned to meet to amend the bill.

Ozanne, a Democrat, wants a judge to void the law and issue an emergency order blocking the secretary of state from publishing the law, which would prevent it from taking effect. He also wants each Republican leader fined $300.

Judge Maryann Sumi was scheduled to hold a hearing on the lawsuit Thursday morning.

Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk filed a lawsuit nearly identical to Ozanne’s the same day Walker signed the bill, which garnered nationwide attention and drew tens of thousands of protesters to the Wisconsin Capitol for weeks.

Walker spokesman Chris Schrimpf said Republicans did nothing wrong. Andrew Welhouse, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, added: “We are completely confidant we followed the law through the entire process.”

The new law limits most public workers’ collective bargaining rights to wages only, so they can no longer negotiate work conditions, vacation time or grievance processes.

Walker and Republicans insist the move will help the state balance its current $137 million deficit and a $3.6 billion hole in the upcoming two-year budget. Walker also has said the law will give local governments the flexibility to absorb deep cuts in state aid.

Democrats consider it a direct attempt to cripple unions, one of their strongest campaign allies. Union workers see the law as a personal attack.

Demonstrations against the bill jammed the Capitol and its grounds for three straight weeks. Senate Democrats left the state for Illinois to block a vote in the Senate.

But Republicans broke the impasse on March 9, when they convened a committee in the Senate parlor to strip what they said were the fiscal provisions from the bill. That negated the need for a full quorum, allowing Republican senators to vote without the minority Democrats.

Assembly Republicans passed the bill the next day and Walker signed it about 24 hours later, leaving Democrats no way to stop the measure except in court.

Assembly Democrats filed a complaint alleging the open meetings violations with Ozanne the day after the committee convened.

Falk’s suit argues the bill still contained spending provisions after the committee was done revising it. That means a full quorum was necessary to vote in the Senate. She also argues that the Republicans convened the committee hearing on less than two hours’ notice, even though the state’s open meeting law demands at least 24 hours.

Ozanne’s lawsuit alleges the same open meeting violation. He also claims that the Senate parlor was too small to be considered reasonably accessible and police had restricted public access to the state Capitol building to limit protesters.

Senate Clerk Rob Marchant has said the meeting was legally called under rules of the Senate that have no time requirement, but Ozanne argues that open meeting statutes still applied.

Falk asked for an emergency order blocking publication of the law on March 11, but Dane County Circuit Judge Amy R. Smith denied the request. The case then shifted to Sumi, who has decided to hold a hearing on Friday in that case.

Falk’s attorneys hope Sumi will decide to halt publication on a non-emergency basis then, but the judge has warned them that the decision may not come during Friday’s proceedings and she plans to be out of her office all next week.

Ozanne’s lawsuit gives Democrats another chance to win an emergency injunction on Thursday.

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