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Wisconsin Collective Bargaining Law in Limbo

A landmark measure to scale back public-sector collective bargaining rights is the law of the land in the state of Wisconsin. Or is it?

A Wisconsin judge yesterday blocked state officials from implementing the controversial law, which would restrict bargaining rights for teachers and most other public-sector workers.

Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi had issued an injunction earlier this month that prevented enactment of the law, which was supported by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. That move came after a local district attorney challenged the manner in which the law had been approved by the state legislature's GOP majority, saying it violated open-meetings laws.

But even after the judge's action this month, Wisconsin's Legislative Reference Bureau published the law. That step is typically the last step before a law takes effect, the Associated Press noted.

In the hearing yesterday, Sumi did not declare that the law was not in effect, but she pointedly noted that her earlier order had either been ignored or misunderstood, according to AP, and said anyone who violates the new order would face sanctions.

How will the governor and state legislators respond? A spokesman for Walker, Cullen Werwie, referred me to the state's Department of Administration. The secretary of that agency, Mike Huebsch, issued the following statement on the judge's ruling: "The Department of Administration is still evaluating the judge's order. We will continue to confer with our legal counsel and have more information about how to move forward in the near future."

The collective bargaining measure became the focus of a national debate over labor rights and public-sector benefits, since Walker unveiled his sweeping proposal last month. A group of Democratic state lawmakers fled the state in an attempt to block it, but Republicans managed to get the measure approved, and Walker signed it, though the legality of its passage is now in question.

In the meantime, teachers and school district officials, already anxious about how the law will affect their finances and employee relations, will have to wait things out.

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