CHICAGO — A Wisconsin judge on Thursday struck down the state’s controversial law that curtailed the collective bargaining powers of most public unions and raised pension contributions and health care premiums, concluding that lawmakers violated state open-meetings rules in their haste to pass the legislation.
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi issued a 33-page ruling on Thursday that the legislative conference committee had failed to provide proper notice of their March 9 meeting, during which they stripped fiscal elements from the bill and passed the remaining pieces.
The action was taken by Republicans, who hold a majority in the Assembly and Senate, so that a vote could be taken in the Senate. The fiscal elements, including authorization to restructure debt for fiscal 2011 budgetary relief, required a supermajority to be present to establish a quorum.
Democratic senators had earlier fled the state to prevent a vote. Without the fiscal issues in the package, Republicans were able to convene the Legislature and approve the package submitted by freshman GOP Gov. Scott Walker.
The ruling, which did not address the legality of the measures in the law, is far from the final word on the issue. The state likely will appeal. It also earlier challenged Sumi’s issuance of an injunction blocking implementation of the law. State lawyers believe Sumi lacks authority to block or overturn the legislation. The Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear arguments over whether it should take the case on June 6.
Republicans also could press for a new vote. “We look forward to the reforms of the budget-repair bill being enacted in the near future,” said Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch.
Dane County prosecutors filed the challenge after Democrats filed a complaint about improper notice of the conference panel meeting. The higher pension and health care premiums were expected to save $30 million in the current budget and $300 million over the next biennium.