As the battle over Gov. Scott Walker's controversial collective bargaining legislation heads to the courtroom, the two sides still can't agree whether it's truly in effect.
The Legislative Reference Bureau published the law online Friday in a surprise move, after a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. But serious questions remain over whether the law went into effect Saturday — especially because Secretary of State Doug La Follette, who typically publishes laws, is barred from doing so by a restraining order.
Even the Reference Bureau says its move didn't put the law into effect. La Follette, a Democrat, agrees.
But Fitzgerald insisted Saturday that the law is now law.
"I still do believe this will bring a conclusion," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, the legislation is in effect today."
Fitzgerald said he got the idea for the LRB to publish the law after reading a Wisconsin State Journal article earlier this month, which said laws don't take effect until one day after they are published with the LRB. Fitzgerald and his staff researched the statutes before meeting with Steve Miller, LRB director, on Friday morning to discuss the issue.
"They all came to the conclusion that they had to take action and publish," Fitzgerald said.
But attorney Scott Grosz of the Wisconsin Legislative Council said Friday night in an email to Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, that "the LRB did not intend for its action to independently determine" the law going into effect and "further action by the Secretary of State is required" for that to happen.
Regardless, the Republican leader's actions have been slammed by Democratic lawmakers, protesters, unions and the Dane County District Attorney who filed one of the lawsuits over the legislation.
District Attorney Ismael R. Ozanne, who said he believes the law isn't in effect, added he was surprised the attempt at publication was triggered by Fitzgerald — "a named defendant in the lawsuit."
Ozanne added that he looks forward to presenting his case at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, just one hint that legal challenges to the legislation are far from over.
And Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, called Fitzerald's move an "arrogant" approach.
"I don't know why he feels so intent on questioning the legal process," Risser said. "It shows a disgrace of the precedent, the laws and the courts."
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie could not be reached for comment Saturday.
But state Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch issued a statement Saturday night that, upon the advice of his legal counsel, the DOA will begin the process of implementing the law "as we are required to do the day after a bill is lawfully published."
"We are mindful that this Act is continuing to be litigated and we will continue to be responsive to the courts as the law begins to be applied," Huebsch said.
In the wake of the latest drama, hundreds of protesters descended on the state Capitol again Saturday. The crowd was smaller than those on recent Saturdays but included marchers holding a sign that read, "Latinos y Latinas en Madison: No a Walker & Corps," and a group of yellow cabs honking to the rhythm of the chant, "This is what democracy looks like." A small group of robed professors, who walked about 43 miles from their UW-Whitewater campus, also joined the demonstrations.
State Journal reporter Deborah Ziff contributed to this report.