We’re starting to get an outline of how Wisconsin Republicans will proceed on their anti-union bill stripping most collective bargaining rights for public employees. The version they passed back in March is tied up in court, due to procedural missteps. Republicans have so far pronounced themselves innocent of the charges – but they could end that court action by simply passing the bill in the proper manner. And now, they’re setting the parameters to do that.
Republican legislative leaders said Wednesday that if the courts have not ruled on the legality of the collective bargaining bill passed earlier this year by early June, it will be added into the state budget by the Joint Finance Committee.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald both told The Associated Press that it would make the most sense for the committee to add the language into the budget before it comes up for debate before the full Legislature.
However, both Fitzgeralds are hoping the courts rule that the bill passed in March is legal and can take effect so further legislative action isn’t necessary. The state Supreme Court has been asked to take the case, but it has not said if it will. Two lawsuits are pending in circuit court.
Gov. Scott Walker supports putting the issue in the budget if the courts haven’t ruled by the time that comes to the Legislature for a vote.
Since this article came out, the state Supreme Court ordered oral arguments for June 6 on the case in Dane County court about the anti-union bill. That case, presided over by Judge Maryann Sumi, has to do with alleged violations of Wisconsin open meetings laws in passing the bill. The oral arguments will concern whether the Supreme Court should take over jurisdiction of the case. The state Supreme Court in Wisconsin has a 4-3 majority for Republicans.
This means that the Supreme Court wouldn’t take over the case until early June at the very earliest, which coincides with FitzWalker’s drop-dead date for holding off on simply placing the anti-union provisions into the budget. FitzWalker believes that they cannot balance their budget without the savings from health care and pension contributions in the bill.
I’m trying to figure out how this doesn’t pose the exact same problem for Republicans that it did when they stuck the anti-union provisions in the budget repair bill. Because of the fiscal nature of the bill, they require a quorum. So if they tried this with the budget, Democrats could leave the state again. And there would be something of a deadline – on July 12, the recall elections in nine Senate districts will take place. Democrats could hold the Senate after that, rendering passage of the anti-union provisions impossible.
However, this carries risks for a few Senate Democrats who are on the ballot in these recalls. Would they really stay out of state the last month before an election? It’s unlikely. With the pickup of a state Assembly seat, Democrats in THAT chamber could walk out this time. However, at least one Assembly Democrat, Jennifer Shilling, is running in the recall election – she’s taking on Dan Kapanke – and she would have to stay out of state. So there are electoral complications as well as electoral benefits.
And, Republicans could do what they did before – split the anti-union provisions out from the main budget bill, and pass the “non-fiscal” measure, after giving a proper meeting with 24 hours notice for the Senate/Assembly conference committee. But there is still an open question as to whether the bill that was passed, with it’s health care and pension contribution changes, is truly non-fiscal. In fact, there’s a pending court case to that effect, which says that the bill would still need a quorum requirement that it did not get when Republicans in the Senate passed it all alone. AND, there are questions about the pension changes in municipal jurisdictions violating home rule provisions. So there would be OTHER court challenges to the bill even if they passed it properly under open meetings rules. And the potential exists for an injunction there.
Simply put, there are a lot of balls up in the air.