By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The state Justice Department asked an appeals court Monday to lift an emergency order blocking the state’s contentious new collective bargaining law, saying the judge overreached and improperly inserted herself into the law-making process.
Agency attorneys Maria Lazar and Steven Kilpatrick said in a petition to the 4th District Court of Appeals that Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi trampled the Legislature’s ability to create laws. She can rule on a law only after it takes effect, they said.
“There is absolutely no authority for the broad, overreaching step taken. In the interests of the administration of justice, it is necessary — nay, it is imperative — that this (appeals) Court step forward and undo this inappropriate act,” their filing said.
Democratic Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne asked for the emergency order blocking publication in a lawsuit he filed last week. The suit alleges that Republican legislative leaders violated the state’s open meeting law during debate on the proposal and La Follette should therefore be barred from publishing the law. Publication is the last step before a law can take effect in Wisconsin.
Sumi issued the order on Friday after saying she thought the lawsuit had a reasonable chance of success. She plans to consider the merits of the case later this month.
The Justice Department is representing the Republicans and La Follette. Since Sumi’s order was only temporary, the agency must win permission from an appeals court to proceed with a challenge. The filing Monday seeks that permission and asks the appeals court to lift the emergency order or send the case straight to the state Supreme Court.
It was unclear when the appeals court might make a decision. Ozanne didn’t immediately return messages.
The law, authored by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, requires most public sector workers to contribute more to their pensions and health insurance, changes that amount to an average 8 percent pay cut. The law also strips them of their ability to collectively bargain for anything except wages.
Walker has said the bill is necessary to help close a $137 million deficit in the current state budget and a projected $3.6 billion hole in the upcoming two-year budget. He said the law also will give local governments the flexibility they need to absorb deep cuts in state aid.
The law has outraged the Democrats and unions, who are among the party’s biggest supporters. They contend that the Republican attack on collective bargaining was purely political and meant to weaken the Democrats.
Minority Democrats in the state Senate fled to Illinois last month to prevent a vote on the plan in that chamber. The move created a three-week stalemate that gave tens of thousands of people time to mount huge demonstrations at the state Capitol.
Republican lawmakers broke the impasse on March 9 when they abruptly convened a special committee to pull the fiscal components from the plan. That allowed Senate Republicans to vote without a full quorum, and the chamber passed the measure minutes after the committee adjourned.
The Republican-controlled state Assembly passed the bill the next day and Walker signed it on March 11.
Ozanne’s lawsuit contends Republicans didn’t give the proper 24-hour public notice that the committee planned to meet, violating Wisconsin’s open meetings law. Sumi said that’s a crucial point as she justified the emergency order during a hearing last Friday.
Walker and Republican leaders have insisted they did nothing wrong.
Lazar and Kilpatrick argued on Monday that a judge can’t block a measure from becoming law. He or she can rule on a proposal’s constitutionality after it becomes law, but can’t interfere with the process before that, they said.
“The trial court does not have the authority to intermeddle in the Legislature’s internal proceedings. That is precisely what happened here,” they wrote.
They argued, too, that Republican lawmakers and La Follette enjoy immunity from lawsuits and legislative rules trump the open meeting laws. They also maintained that blocking publication could cost the state millions of dollars the law would save.
“No amount of money can ever make the state whole,” they argued, “even for a temporary suspension of the lawmaking function.”
Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, a Democrat, has filed a lawsuit alleging similar open meeting violations. She also argues fiscal components remain in the law, making the Senate vote to pass the measure without Democrats present invalid.
Sumi is handling that case as well. A hearing has been set for next month.