August 22, 2014

Supreme Court considers collective bargaining law

The future of the Governor’s collective bargaining law is now in the hands of the state Supreme Court. Justices heard over four hours of testimony Monday on a petition from the state, which calls on the court to overturn a Dane County Judge’s decision blocking implementation of the law.

Assistant Attorney General Kevin St. John argued the judge exceeded her authority in ruling the law was void because Republican legislators likely violated the state’s Open Meetings Law. St. John says that each day the decision is allowed to stand, it cause irreparable harm to the Legislature.

However, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, who filed the original complaint, argued the ruling should be upheld and the state should not be allowed to bypass the lower courts. Ozanne and attorneys for Democratic lawmakers argued Republicans are simply asking the Supreme Court to rule on the issue so they don’t have to go through the lengthy appeals process.

Attorney Bob Jambois, representing Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha), says Republicans rushed the bill through and broke the law to avoid the public outcry from an unpopular vote. Jambois says the GOP wanted to avoid the thousands of people who would have surrounded the building if the meeting had been properly noticed, and that’s not a good enough reason to invalidate the lower court’s decision.

St. John also rejected arguments that Republican lawmakers simply can overcome the legal challenge by properly scheduling the bill for another vote. He says there’s “nothing in the Constitution that requires the Senate and Assembly to vote twice on a bill before it becomes law.”

The complex case raises a number of questions about what actually defines a closed meeting, how much public needed is needed before acting on controversial votes, and the power of a judge to invalidate action by the Legislature. Members of the court grilled attorneys over many of those key factors in what were sometimes accusatory exchanges.

Justices met into a closed conference on Tuesday night, but it’s unknown when the Court will issue a decision in the case.

AUDIO: AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (1:03)