By Craig Johnson, an attorney at Sweet and Associates in Milwaukee, Wis. Mr. Johnson is on the Board of Directors of ACS’s Milwaukee Chapter.
In a ruling applauded by unions and advocates of open government, a Wisconsin trial court judge recently struck down the controversial law gutting collective bargaining for public employees. Judge Maryann Sumi ruled that the law had been passed in violation of the state's open meetings law, a provision founded on the state constitution's command that the doors of each house of the legislature shall remain open during session.
The collective bargaining legislation provoked mass protests from unions and progressive activists when it was proposed by newly elected Governor Scott Walker (pictured) this past winter. It prompted Democratic state senators to leave the state in an effort to slow down passage. The Republican-controlled legislature responded with a parliamentary maneuver that allowed it to consider the bill without the constitutional quorum required for budget proposals. Republicans pushed the changes through conference committee in a March 9 session in a meeting for which they did not give requisite public notice. It was that action, which resulted in the Dane County Judge - who was appointed by Republican Governor Tommy Thompson- voiding the law.
The battle over the law, which severely limits the collective bargaining rights of public sector employees, has sharply divided the state, and recall elections are now moving forward for nine senators - six Republicans and three Democrats. If the legislature ultimately has to reconsider the law, its future may hinge on the outcome of these elections. The other possibility is that the Republicans will try to include the collective bargaining changes in the 2011-13 budget now under consideration. This could force Republican senators to take another difficult vote on the eve of July recall elections. In the meantime, the Republican Attorney General has asked the state Supreme Court to vacate Judge Sumi's decision, saying she exceeded her power in striking down the legislation without finding a constitutional violation. Oral argument before the court is June 6.