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Wisconsin judge dismisses case challenging union bargaining law

A judge for Wisconsin's Dane County Circuit Court [official website] Thursday dismissed [opinion, PDF] a lawsuit that had challenged [amended complaint, PDF] a controversial state bill limiting the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions. Judge Maryann Sumi ruled that the two county officials who filed the complaint lacked standing to sue as government representatives, but could sue as individuals. Sumi explained in the opinion: "Dane County's claims are not statutory; they are constitutional. Under longstanding Wisconsin law, an agency or arm of government lacks authority to challenge the constitutionality of state statutes." Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and County Board Chairman Scott McDonell [official profiles] filed the complaint last month, arguing that the state's new Budget Repair Bill [Senate Bill 11 text, PDF] violated the Wisconsin Constitution [PDF] and the state open meetings law [text], a rule that requires 24-hour notice of public meetings in non-emergency situations. Falk said in a statement on Thursday that, while the decision prohibits county officials from challenging the constitutionality of the bill, the state district attorney and attorney general may still litigate the issue [press release, PDF].

Last week, Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen [official website] filed a Petition for Supervisory Writ directly to the state Supreme Court over Sumi temporarily blocking [JURIST reports] the union bargaining bill last month. The suit claimed that Sumi did not have the constitutional authority to block the publication of the bill. Last month, Sumi issued an order [JURIST report] clarifying that the temporary restraining order prohibits not only publication of the bill, but implementation of its provisions as well. Sumi's order was issued in response to debate among government officials [JURIST report] that the law went into effect after it was published on the Wisconsin Legislative Bureau's website. The judge's temporary restraining order also stemmed from a lawsuit [JURIST report] filed earlier this month by District Attorney Ismael Ozanne [official website] claiming that Republican legislators passed the bill in violation of Wisconsin's open meetings law.

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