Education International
Education International

Wisconsin ‘budget bill’ struck down by court

published 31 May 2011 updated 8 June 2011

The controversial Wisconsin law which proposed to take away most collective bargaining rights from public workers has been struck down by a circuit court judge. However, the ruling will not be the final say in the union fight that brought tens of thousands of protesters to the streets this year.


The state Supreme Court has scheduled arguments for 6 June to decide if 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.

Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker has pushed for the law as a way to help balance the state budget. Walker’s Republican allies in the Legislature have said that they will 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, has not commented on the Dane County district court decision.

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

Sumi said violating the open meetings law betrayed 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 US$300 million until mid-2103. The law also strips them of their right to collectively bargain any work conditions except wages. Police and firefighters are exempt.

Democrats have argued that the law is an attempt to weaken labour unions. EI’s American education union affiliates, the NEA and AFT, have been among the strongest opponents of the proposed law.

Wisconsin state Democrats fled to Illinois for three weeks in February and March in an 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.