- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2011

MADISON, Wis. —

Wisconsin’s law taking away nearly all collective bargaining rights from most public workers was struck down Thursday by a circuit court judge but the ruling will not be the final say in the union fight that brought tens of thousands of protesters to the Capitol earlier this year.

The state Supreme Court has scheduled arguments for June 6 to decide whether it will take the case. Republicans who control the Legislature also could pass the law a second time to avoid the open meeting violations that led to the judge’s voiding the law Thursday.

Gov. Scott Walker pushed for the law as a way to help balance the state budget that was projected to be $3.6 billion short when he introduced the proposal in February. His spokesman, Cullen Werwie, said the governor would have no comment on the ruling.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and his brother, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, said in statements they believe the Supreme Court will rule in their favor.

**FILE** State Rep. Jon Richards (center), Milwaukee Democrat, and other Assembly Democrats thank protesters in the gallery on March 10, 2011, after they were unable to stop the Republican majority from voting on, and passing, the budget repair bill at the state Capitol in Madison, Wis. (Associated Press/Wisconsin State Journal, Michael P. King)
**FILE** State Rep. Jon Richards (center), Milwaukee Democrat, and other Assembly Democrats ... more >

“This overdue reform is still a critical part of balancing Wisconsin’s budget,” Scott Fitzgerald said.

Wisconsin Department of Justice executive assistant Steve Means said the ruling was disappointing and that he was confident the Supreme Court would overturn the decision. The Justice Department argued that the lower court judge had no authority to block enactment of a bill passed by the Legislature.

Ismael Ozanne, the Dane County district attorney who argued for striking down the law, did not immediately return a message.

While Walker and Republican legislators have said they legally passed the bill, they say they would pass it again if necessary to have it take effect when Walker’s two-year budget begins July 1.

Still, the judge’s ruling is a victory, said Marty Beil, executive director of the state’s largest public employee union.

“It tells legislators ‘You can’t be arrogant,’” Beil said. “You have to do it in the light of day. You can’t take stuff away from people in a backroom deal.”

If the Legislature legally passes the bill, Beil said more legal challenges attacking its constitutionality will be filed.

Mary Bell, president of the state’s largest teachers’ union, said she hoped the judge’s ruling would lead to lawmakers reconsidering passing the law again.

“It is not in the best interest of students, schools or Wisconsin’s future to take the voices of educators out of our classrooms,” Bell said in a statement. “We’ve seen how this issue has polarized our state.”

The last time the Legislature took up the issue, tens of thousands of protesters including many teachers descended on Madison in a vain attempt to persuade lawmakers to reject Walker’s proposal. The protests, which grew to as large as 85,000 people, lasted for weeks and made Wisconsin the center of a national debate on union rights. Meanwhile, all 14 Democratic senators fled to Illinois to prevent a 20-member quorum to pass the bill. The Senate then called a special committee meeting with roughly two hours’ notice so it could amend the bill to take out spending items that required a higher quorum to be present.

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