CHICAGO — An appeal challenging Wisconsin’s controversial legislation that strips most public unions of much of their collective bargaining powers and raises employee pension contributions and health care premiums should go directly to the state Supreme Court, an appellate panel said Thursday.
The panel said that “the appeal presents significant issues” that are best decided directly by the high court to “reduce the burden and expense” of the appellate process. The court said the case presents two significant legal issues: whether a legislative act can be struck down due to a violation of open-meetings rules, and whether courts can block the publishing of legislation before it becomes a law.
It is up to the state Supreme Court to decide whether to take the case and how quickly to decide it. If the court does not take it up, it would go back to the appellate court. The court said past rulings provide conflicting guidance. The panel did not address the merits of the case, which alleges lawmakers violated state open-meetings laws when they moved quickly to pass a revised budget-repair bill out of committee.
Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen on Monday asked the state appellate court to lift a lower court’s temporary restraining order blocking the controversial budget-repair measure proposed by Gov. Scott Walker from becoming law. Dane County District Court Judge Maryann Sumi last Friday granted the Dane County prosecutor’s request for a temporary restraining order to keep Secretary of State Doug La Follette from publishing the law until she rules on it.
The bill — which strips most public unions of many of their collective bargaining rights and increases state employees’ pension contributions and health care premiums — can become law only after the secretary of state publishes it.
Dane County district attorney Ismael Ozanne contends the legislative committee that passed a revised budget repair bill and then sent it to the chambers for a vote didn’t provide sufficient notice of the meeting in violation of open-meetings laws. The state argues that Sumi overstepped her authority and that her action interferes with legislative powers.
Senate Democrats stalled the Republican majority’s passage of the original legislation by fleeing the state, leaving the Senate one member short of the special majority needed to establish a quorum. The GOP ultimately got around the requirement by stripping the bill of its fiscal elements, including a $165 million debt restructuring, which had triggered the need for a larger majority to establish a quorum.
The higher pension contributions and health care premiums will save the state $30 million in the current budget and $300 million in the next two-year budget cycle.