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Wis. asks state Supreme Court to take union case

Scott Bauer
Associated Press

Madison – Gov. Scott Walker’s administration asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the law that would take away nearly all collective bargaining rights from public workers and block any further action by a lower court in the case.

The Justice Department filing also asks the Supreme Court to remove a judge’s order blocking enactment of the law that was signed by Walker on March 11. The request was made on behalf of Walker’s top aide Mike Huebsch, secretary of the Department of Administration.

Huebsch said in a statement that he would not proceed with enacting the law per the circuit court’s order halting further action, but he wants the Supreme Court to take over the case to provide clarity to state and local governments trying to balance budgets.

The law in in limbo takes away nearly all collective bargaining rights from public workers and also forces state employees to contribute more toward their pension and health care benefits, amounting to an 8 percent pay cut. The savings to the state are estimated to be $30 million by July. Republican legislators passed the law despite a bitter standoff with Democrats and weeks of large pro-union protests in the state Capitol.

“As we work to address enormous fiscal challenges, what government needs most now is certainty and that’s what we are asking for,” Huebsch said.

Democratic Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, who brought the case challenging the law based on an open meetings law violation, said he had just received the latest filing and did not yet have time to read it.

“We’ll take a look at it and I’m sure we’ll have some response,” he said.

The DOJ filing asks for the Supreme Court to take the case, even though it hasn’t reached its conclusion in circuit court yet, based on a claim that the judge exceeded her authority.

In the filing, the DOJ argues that Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi does not have the authority to strike down an act of the Legislature based on an alleged violation of the state open meetings law, the court can’t stop a law from taking effect and that it improperly issued a temporary restraining order.

The Supreme Court has already been asked by the Justice Department to accept its appeal of the judge’s order putting the law on hold. The Supreme Court has not said whether it would take up that appeal and it is under no timeline to make a decision.

On Wednesday, Democratic Secretary of State Doug La Follette asked the Supreme Court to drop that appeal which was made in his name. La Follette’s request, made by his private attorney Roger Sage, alleges that Justice Department lawyers drafted the March 21 appeal of the judge’s order without consulting La Follette, even though the appeal was submitted on his behalf.

Department spokesman Bill Cosh said in a statement that the DOJ disagrees with La Follette’s assertion that he wasn’t consulted about the appeal before it was filed. The department said in a legal response Thursday that it is “fully capable and able to adequately represent” La Follette.

The appeal at issue seeks to undo the judge’s order barring La Follette from publishing the law in the state’s official newspaper – the last step before a law takes effect – while she considers a lawsuit challenging the way the law was passed. Sumi extended the order infinitely last week, and it could be months before she rules.

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