Lawsuit alleges stripped-down union bill approved by Senate still had fiscal provisions

2011-03-25T15:18:00Z 2011-07-05T18:09:43Z Lawsuit alleges stripped-down union bill approved by Senate still had fiscal provisionsED TRELEVEN | | 608-252-6134

In the third lawsuit challenging Gov. Scott Walker's controversial bill that limits public union bargaining rights, unions representing Madison public works employees and firefighters sued the state of Wisconsin and Walker on Friday, alleging that the state Senate did not have the necessary quorum when it approved the bill.

AFL-CIO Laborers Local 236 and Firefighters Local 311 allege in a lawsuit filed in Dane County Circuit Court that despite claims to the contrary, the bill contains provisions that have fiscal impacts on the state and required a quorum of three-fifths of the Senate to vote on it.

Only 19 of the 33 senators were present for the vote, all Republican. The Senate's 14 Democrats were in Illinois to deny Republicans a the necessary quorum for a fiscal bill.

The lawsuit seeks to have a judge declare the bill, signed into law by Walker on March 11, null and void. Walker's office says the law will take effect Saturday after it was published Friday by the Legislative Reference Bureau.

Supporters of a stripped-down version of what was called the budget repair bill say the measure passed by the legislature and signed by Walker did not contain any fiscal elements, so it did not require a quorum of 20 senators to vote.

But Katy Lounsbury, one of the lawyers representing the unions that filed the lawsuit, said there's some dispute about that.

"There is probably a difference of opinion as to what is considered a fiscal element," she said. She declined to say specifically which provisions of the final bill her clients consider fiscal elements.

The suit states that the bill severely limits the ability of public sector unions to maintain themselves and take actions together that are of mutual interest. Those restrictions affect the employment relationship between the city of Madison and other municipalities with their employees, the lawsuit states. 

Bill Cosh, spokesman for the state Department of Justice, which generally represents the state in court, had no comment on the lawsuit.

This is the third lawsuit against the state challenging the collective bargaining bill. 

Dane County sued to stop Secretary of State Doug La Follette, who also has legal authority to publish the law, from doing so. The county's suit alleges that a legislative conference committee that created the stripped-down version of the bill violated the state open meetings law and that the Senate did not have the necessary quorum to vote.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne filed a similar lawsuit over the open meetings issue, which led to a temporary restraining order last week barring La Follette from publishing the bill into law. The state Supreme Court is now deciding whether to accept an appeal of that order.

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