Judge blocks contentious Wisconsin union law

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“Wisconsin’s educators call upon the Legislature to take this as a clear signal that Wisconsinites will not tolerate backroom deals and political power plays when it comes to our public schools and other valued services,” said Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council.

Marty Beil, director of the state’s largest public employee union, said in a statement, “We are gratified to see some of our so-called ‘leaders’ finally held accountable for their illegal actions.”

Assistant Attorney General Steve Means said the Justice Department planned to appeal the ruling. Since Sumi’s order isn’t final, the agency must secure permission from the state court of appeals before it can bring a case, Means said. Agency attorneys planned to make the request later Friday or perhaps early next week, Means said.

If the agency wins permission, it can pursue an appeal with the state appeals court or try to get the state Supreme Court to hear the case.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne filed the lawsuit this week alleging the open meetings law was violated because 24 hours’ notice wasn’t given for a meeting of the special legislative committee convened to amend the bill.

Justice Department attorneys argued that notice on a bulletin board posted about two hours before the committee meeting was to start last Wednesday was sufficient under rules of the Senate.

The judge said DOJ couldn’t show the committee was exempt from the 24-hour notice requirement. She said Ozanne could ultimately win the case and ordered Secretary of State Doug La Follette to hold off on publishing the law — the last step before it can take effect. La Follette had planned to publish the law on March 25.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha said the ruling was a move in the right direction.

“I’m very pleased,” Barca said. “As you know, I felt from the moment they called this that this would be a violation of open meetings law. This is an important first step in this regard.”

The bill was part of Walker’s solution for plugging a $137 million state budget shortfall. A part of the measure would require state workers to increase their health insurance and pension contributions to save the state $30 million by July 1. Other parts of Walker’s original proposal to address the budget shortfall were removed before the bill passed last week. The Legislature planned to take those up later.

Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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