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Wisconsin Union Bill Suit Gets March 18 Hearing Date

A Wisconsin county executive’s challenge to a bill curbing collective bargaining for most state government workers will be considered at a hearing March 18, a judge said.

The Wisconsin Assembly passed a modified version of Governor Scott Walker’s budget bill March 10, a day after the State Senate voted 18-1 for the measure. Senate Republicans ended a stalemate by stripping the bill of some fiscal measures to circumvent a requirement that three-fifths of members be present. The chamber’s 14 Democrats left the state Feb. 17 to prevent a quorum.

Kathleen Falk, Dane County Executive, sued Wisconsin, its secretary of state and four legislators March 11, asking the court to declare that the senate’s vote was unconstitutional and to stop the bill from becoming law. Judge Amy Smith, who later recused herself from the case. denied Falk’s request that day for a temporary restraining order.

“I see no conflict of interest or other need to recuse,” Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi, who has taken over the case, said at a status conference today. She asked lawyers for both sides to decide whether they wanted a new judge and set a hearing on the lawsuit for March 18.

“If no such request is made, we can have a full day hearing on Friday,” Sumi said. She said she would make no decision on the case that day.

Earlier Decision

Sumi declined to reverse Smith’s earlier decision denying a restraining order blocking the bill. Governor Walker said he would sign the bill into law as soon as legally possible.

Sumi said she wants to hear arguments from both sides and would like to see any party that intends to intervene to do so by Friday. The defense was also asked to respond to the complaint by Friday.

“We’re a court of law,” Sumi said. “We are not a court of politics or passion.”

The bill as passed “contains substantive fiscal items within it, and the Wisconsin Senate did not have the required three-fifths of its members to vote,” according to Falk’s complaint. The Senate’s action also “is in clear violation of Wisconsin’s open meetings laws,” she said.

Wisconsin Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca last week asked Dane County District Attorney Ismael R. Ozanne to investigate and reverse the state Senate’s passage of the bill.

The vote violated the state’s open-meetings law by failing to give 24-hours’ notice, Barca said in a complaint filed in Madison, the state capital. Barca said he was informed of the session considering the bill less than two hours before it convened.

Ozanne has said he is investigating.

The case is Dane County v. State of Wisconsin, 11cv1175, Circuit Court, Dane County, Wisconsin (Madison).

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