Judge blocks budget repair bill - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Judge blocks budget repair bill

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By Tony Galli - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook | Blog

MADISON (WKOW) -- In a stirring, swift decision,  Dane County judge Maryann Sumi stopped Governor Walker's controversial budget repair bill in its tracks, issuing a temporary restraining order and stating Wisconsin's open meetings law was probably violated when a legislative conference committee rushed the bill through to the state Senate.

"We own our government,"  Sumi told a crowded courtroom, as she likened the people's stake in what happens in the legislature to the stake individual stockholders have in the operation and fortunes of the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.

Sumi said the law providing access to government meetings is "...not a minor detail," in rejecting arguments by assistant attorneys general that fines were sufficient penalties against lawmakers, if an open meetings law violation occurred.

Before Sumi's ruling Friday, Secretary of State Doug La Follette was prepared to publish the bill and its near-elimination of public employee collective bargaining rights on March 25.  Sumi's ruling prevents that publication and its power to give the law force.   

La Follette was a defendant in the court action and attended the hearing.  La Follette said the law's sweeping changes and importance motivated him to resist Walker's request for almost immediate publication.  

What happens next to the law and its provisions remain uncertain, although Sumi said lawmakers could reconsider the bill.  Assembly minority leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha), who had criticized the conference committee's failure to give the public 24-hour notice of its meeting, praised Sumi's ruling, but declined to comment on whether lawmakers should again consider the bill.

Assistant Attorney General Steven Means disagreed with Sumi's decision, and said an appeal of her ruling was possible.   Later Friday,  Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said an appeal of the court decision would be pursued.

During the court hearing, assistant attorneys general argued allowing a judge to stop the bill's progress amounted to the judicial branch's invasion of the powers of the government's legislative branch.

In a statement,  Van Hollen also said La Follette's duty to publish bills should not be interfered with.   "Decisions of the supreme court have made it clear that judges may not enjoin the Secretary of State from publishing an Act."

Dane County district attorney Ismael Ozanne, who brought the court action over alleged open meetings violations, declined to put Sumi's decision to temporarily derail the nationally-watched legislation into a historical context.

"It is a good first step."

Sumi scheduled another hearing March 29 on Ozanne's bid to continue to stall the law.

Ozanne told the court he was prepared to call as many as twenty witnesses to try to prove the need for the restraining order.  But after hearing from the attorneys on the case, Sumi ordered a short recess, and returned with her decision without hearing any testimony.

Sumi said the committee's failure to provide twenty four hours notice of the meeting was glaring.   

"(It) Would and did catch the public unaware."

Several state lawmakers were also defendants in the case, but were not present in the courtroom, as the judge affirmed they had constitutional immunity from the court action because the legislature is in session.

In a statement, Gov. Walker said "This legislation is still working through the legal process.  We are confident the provisions of the budget repair bill will become law in the near future."

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