Judge blocks Wisconsin law curbing labor rights

A Wisconsin judge has temporarily blocked a controversial law from going into effect that would severely restrict collective-bargaining rights for most public employees in the state.

Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi issued a restraining order Friday that stops publication of the law signed last week by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R). Halting that procedural step essentially blocks the measure, which would go into effect once it is formally published.

The judge’s order came after Dane County’s Democratic District Attorney Ismael Ozanne filed a suit alleging that a joint committee of the legislature violated the state’s open meeting law when it abruptly called a session to get the measure passed last week.

The judge’s ruling does not speak to the legal merits of the law but says that the suit over the session has to be completed before the law can move forward.

Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, praised the judge’s action.

“Judge Sumi confirmed today what we knew all along — that the bill stripping hundreds of thousands of hard-working Wisconsinites of their voice on the job was rammed through illegally in the dark of the night,” Neuenfeldt said.

In a statement, Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said: “The 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.”

The move to curb collective bargaining ignited weeks of demonstrations in Madison, as tens of thousands of people descended on the state capitol in protest.

The effort also prompted 14 state Senate Democrats to flee Wisconsin for more than two weeks, in an ultimately futile effort to block the measure’s passage by denying a quorum in the chamber.

Walker and the Republicans outmaneuvered the Democrats by calling an abrupt meeting of a joint legislative committee, which altered the bill last week, allowing it to be considered by fewer legislators.

The measure then passed both legislative chambers, and Walker signed it last week.

Since the law’s enactment, protesters have made fervent efforts to recall Republican state senators who supported it, while proponents have mounted recall efforts against the Democratic senators who left Wisconsin to block the vote.