Justices dissect collective bargaining bill - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Justices dissect collective bargaining bill

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The state supreme court had a long day, nearly 7 hours of questions, answers and arguments about the collective bargaining bill.

The assistant attorney general wants a Dane County Judge's ruling thrown out - so the bill ending most collective bargaining can take effect.

Judge Sumi's ruling last month stopped Governor Scott Walker's plan to end union bargaining with most public employees in Wisconsin. She said republican leaders in the state senate violated the open meetings law when a committee approved the plan.

"This is a specific case about the open meetings law and really until today it was unclear exactly what the state's position was," said Lester Pines, Sen. Mark Miller's Attorney.

"The idea something new came out of this - that's just false these are the same arguments we've been putting forward," said Assistant Attorney General, Kevin St. John.

State lawyers, representing the republican lawmakers, also argued Judge Sumi went too far in her ruling, interfering with the legislative process. At least one of the justices seemed convinced the opening meetings law was not broken.

The justices also questioned attorneys for democrats who argued there were severe restrictions on public access to that meeting.

Assistant Attorney General Kevin St. John said the outcome of this case could set a new precedent.

"If there's no finality to legislation, if every act is passed, we need to go to the courthouse, that's not the way laws are passed," said St. John.

It's now up to the supreme court to decide whether they'll take up the case.

It could take weeks to find out their decision.

Republican lawmakers have said that, if the supreme court decision takes too long or goes against them, they'll add the collective bargaining bill to the state budget.

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MADISON (WKOW) --  Intense questioning from state supreme court justices on Governor Walker's collective bargaining bill highlighted the court's hearing Monday on whether to accept cases involving the controversial legislation, and what to do with the bill if the court reviews it.

Dane County judge Maryann Sumi has halted progress on the bill, citing lawmakers' failure to comply with requirements of the state's open meetings law by convening a key committee hearing on the bill with inadequate public notice, and severely restricting attendance at the hearing.

Assistant Attorney General Kevin St. John told justices the matter is of great interest to the public and involves significant, broad legal issues and is "ripe" for the high court to accept and decide. St. John said Sumi's restraint of the bill amounted to a violation of the separation of powers between branches of government. St. John said a violation of the Open Meetings law,  if one occurred, does not involve the state's constitution and should not interfere with the passage of law.

Time and again, justices referred to a constitutional provision that requires the doors of the legislature remain open for the people's business, except when the public welfare requires secrecy.   After approximately twenty members of the public were allowed into the March committee meeting,  access doors were locked as the committee voted to advance the controversial limitations on public employee collective bargaining.

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson asked St. John whether allowing just one person to attend the meeting would have satisfied the constitution's "open doors" requirement. St. John said it would, as long as the meeting was known to the public, and not held in secret.

During questioning, Justice Michael Gableman pointed out media representatives and members of the public did attend the meeting, and it was broadcast to many others through the capitol-based broadcast service Wisconsin Eye.

Justice David Prosser,  who won reelection last week after a recount in his race with challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg,  noted doors to the senate and assembly are at times locked even during the day and questioned whether a literal interpretation of the constitutional language applied to the level of access at the key committee hearing.

Attorney for Sumi Marie Stanton told justices lawmakers must observe the Open Meetings law in their actions, and said while its provisions are not constitutional, they hold "constitutional relevance."

Justice Annette Ziegler questioned why Sumi made a temporary restraining order against the bill's progress a final order last month,  knowing this hearing before the state's highest court was scheduled to take place, and with it, a chance to gain insight into the high court's thinking on the issue.

Dane County district attorney Ishmael Ozanne,  who filed a complaint with Sumi that led to her decision,  said his actions were necessary when senators, representatives and Governor Walker failed to "cure" the violations of the open meetings law by either reconvening the committee,  or vetoing the legislation.

Time limits for attorney argument usually adhered to during state supreme court hearings were disregarded by justices, as they hurled question after question at attorneys involved in the case.

High court justices will consider the oral arguments and announce a decision at some point in the future.   Republican senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald has said if the state supreme court fails to take the case,  or if there is significant additional delay,  the collective bargaining limitations will be incorporated into the proposed state budget.

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