A Dane County Judge says there is reason to believe the Legislature may have violated the state open meetings law when it convened a conference committee last week to pass an amended version of the budget repair bill. As a result, Judge Maryann Sumi on Friday morning issued a temporary restraining order stopping the collective bargaining law from being implemented until the court says otherwise.
The meeting last Wednesday was held with about two hours notice, which Republicans claim was all that was required under special rules of the Legislature. Sumi says attorneys for the state failed to provide any reason during a hearing Friday morning in Dane County Court why 24 hours notice was not required or provided.
The Legislation was quickly passed by the Legislature last week and signed by the Governor on Friday. The action capped off over three weeks of unrest and massive demonstrations at the Capitol against changes to the collective bargaining rights of public employees that were included in the bill. The conference committee was needed to strip out financial aspects of the bill so the Senate could act on it without Democrats present, after they left the state for nearly three weeks to prevent a vote.
The restraining order will prevent Secretary of State Doug La Follette from publishing the law, the last step required for it to take effect. La Follette, a Democrat, had been delaying that action as long as legally possible while the court challenge was underway.
In issuing her ruling, Sumi says the open meetings law exists to ensure public access to government in controversial matters. She says the lawsuit brought by Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne has a strong chance of showing that law was violated, and failing to stop the law’s implementation while the case is being considered could cause irreparable harm to the people of the state.
Judge Sumi noted that her order will not prevent the Legislature from re-noticing the conference committee hearing and holding another vote on the bill in the Legislature. Republican leaders have not commented yet on if that’s an option they will take.
In a statement, a spokesman for Governor Scott Walker said the legislation is still working through the legal process, and they “are confident the provisions of the budget repair bill will become law in the near future.”
Assistant Attorney General Steven Means says an appeal of the order is being considered. The case is due back in Dane County Court on March 29th.