Wisconsin Republicans say anti-union law in effect

MADISON, Wisconsin (Reuters) – Wisconsin Republicans said on Friday a measure stripping state public employees of most collective bargaining rights was now in effect after it was published by a legislative agency despite a judge’s order against publication.

The move looked certain to stir fresh controversy over the legislation, which in recent weeks sparked huge demonstrations and ignited a national struggle over efforts by several budget-strapped state governments to rein in union power.
Democratic state senators fled the state in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to block a vote on the bill, seen as one of the biggest challenges in decades facing U.S. organized labor.

Republican supporters of the law said the judge’s temporary restraining order on publication had not applied to the Legislative Reference Bureau, which published the legislation, Wisconsin Act 10, electronically on Friday.
Legal publication of the legislation is required for it to go into effect.

The restraining order was issued last week by a judge hearing a complaint by the Dane County district attorney against several Republican legislators who orchestrated the law’s passage two weeks ago. Dane County encompasses the state capital, Madison.

Scott Fitzgerald, head of the Republican-controlled state Senate, said the bureau’s action made the bill “the law” and insisted the action did not violate the restraining order because that did not mention the bureau specifically.

“If the DA didn’t want the Legislative Reference Bureau to publish, then the DA should have made sure that they were part of the restraining order.”

Mike Huebsch, a member of Republican Governor Scott Walker’s Cabinet, said the administration would now “carry out the law as required.”

The LRB is a nonpartisan agency whose director is appointed by the leaders of the Wisconsin State Assembly and Wisconsin State Senate — both Republicans who support the measure.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice, which has defended the bill in court, called the publication “lawful” and said it would evaluate how the LRB move “affects pending litigation.”

The move seemed to catch Democrats by surprise. A spokeswoman for Pete Barca, the top Democrat in the state Assembly, asked journalists seeking comment to be patient.

“We’re seeking information from various sources,” Melanie Conklin wrote in an e-mail, “hoping for further clarification soon.”
Walker pushed the legislation, saying it was part of a package needed to combat the state’s budget deficit.
Union and Democratic critics said that argument was a smokescreen for busting state workers’ unions.
(Writing by James Kelleher; Editing by Jerry Norton)