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Judge Strikes Down Controversial Collective Bargaining Law


"Our form of government depends on citizens' trust..."

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- 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 and Republicans who control the Legislature could also pass the law a second time to avoid the open meeting violations that led to the judge's voiding the law Thursday.

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Gov. Scott Walker pushed for the law as a way to help balance the state budget. His spokesman had not seen the ruling and had no immediate comment. Spokesmen for Republican leaders in the Legislature also did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Walker and Republican leaders have said they would pass the law again as part of the state budget next month if necessary.

A spokesman for Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, whose office defended the state, did not return a call. Ismael Ozanne, the Dane County district attorney who argued for striking down the law, also did not immediately return a message.

Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi ruled that Republican legislators violated Wisconsin's open meetings law during the run-up to the bill's passage in March. She said that renders the law void. She had previously put the law on hold temporarily while she considered the case.

Sumi said violating the open meetings law betrays the public's trust.

"The court must consider the potential damage to public trust and confidence in government if the Legislature is not held to the same rules of transparency that it has created for other governmental bodies," she wrote in a 33-page decision. "Our form of government depends on citizens' trust and confidence in the process by which our elected officials make laws, at all levels of government."

The law called for public workers at all levels, from janitors at the state Capitol to local librarians, to contribute more to their pension and health care costs, resulting in savings to the state of $300 million through mid-2103. The law also strips them of their right to collectively bargain any work conditions except wages. Police and firefighters are exempt.

Democrats see the law as an attempt to weaken labor unions, who have been among their strongest campaign allies. Senate Democrats fled to Illinois for three weeks in February and March in a futile attempt to block a vote in that chamber.

Republicans passed it without them present, using a hastily called meeting to put the bill in the form needed to do that. The calling of that meeting with less than two hours' notice is what led to the lawsuit.

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