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Wisconsin attorney general aims to enforce union law during appeals

Sunday, September 16, 2012

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin's attorney general said Saturday he would seek court permission to keep enforcing a state law that effectively ended collective bargaining for public employees while his office appeals a judge's ruling striking it down.

A Dane County judge issued a ruling Friday overturning almost all of the law that has been a hallmark of Republican Gov. Scott Walker's tenure.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, also a Republican, said in a statement that he believes the law "is constitutional in all respects" and should remain in effect while he appeals the judge's decision.

Walker's office also has vowed to appeal, while the public worker unions that vigorously opposed the law have hailed the decision as a victory.

As has been the case since Walker proposed the law shortly after taking office in 2011, the latest developments have been highly political.

The judge who overturned the law, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas, was appointed to the bench by Walker's predecessor, former Democratic governor Jim Doyle. In a statement issued after the ruling, Walker criticized Colas as a "liberal activist judge."

Meanwhile, the governor's appeal is likely to end up before the conservative-dominated Wisconsin Supreme Court.

In a 27-page ruling, Colas said the law violates the state and federal constitutions. He wrote that sections "single out and encumber the rights of those employees who choose union membership and representation solely because of that association and therefore infringe upon the rights of free speech and association guaranteed by both the Wisconsin and United States Constitutions."

Colas also said the law violates the equal protection clause by creating separate classes of workers who are treated differently and unequally.

The ruling throws into question changes that have been made in pay, benefits and other work conditions for city, county and school district workers. The law only allowed for collective bargaining on wage increases no greater than the rate of inflation; all other issues, including workplace safety, vacation and health benefits could no longer be bargained for.


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