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Wisconsin Union Law Challenge Dismissed By Judge While Additional Lawsuits Remain Pending

Wisconsin Union Law

SCOTT BAUER   04/14/11 04:19 PM ET   AP

MADISON, Wis. — A judge on Thursday dismissed one of three lawsuits challenging Wisconsin's divisive law restricting union bargaining rights, but left open the possibility it could be filed again with slightly different plaintiffs.

Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi dismissed the lawsuit filed on behalf of the county by Democratic County Executive Kathleen Falk. The judge said Falk can't sue because state law forbids an agency or arm of government – like a county – from challenging the constitutionality of state laws.

Falk and Dane County Board Chairman Scott McDonell, however, also have requested to challenge the law as private citizens. Sumi said she was not yet considering that request and a hearing on that issue had not been scheduled as of Thursday.

Falk's lawsuit alleged both that lawmakers broke Wisconsin's open meetings law and violated the constitution by passing the collective bargain bill without the proper quorum.

Republicans said they stripped spending items from the bill so it could pass with the lower quorum requirement while all 14 Senate Democrats were on the run in Illinois. Falk alleged spending items remained, requiring at least 20 senators to be present for the vote.

Falk issued a statement saying Thursday's ruling doesn't resolve the questions she raised in the lawsuit.

State Department of Justice spokesman Bill Cosh said the agency was pleased with the ruling, but the department would continue efforts to defend the lawsuit should it be kept alive with Falk and McDonell named as plaintiffs in their capacity as private taxpayers.

Another lawsuit brought by the Dane County district attorney, also alleging the state open meetings law was violated in the process of passing the bill, is ongoing. Sumi indefinitely blocked enactment of the law earlier this month while she considers that case.

A third lawsuit challenging the law pushed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker has been brought by firefighters and other public workers.

The law in question takes away nearly all collective bargaining rights from public workers and also forces state employees to contribute more toward their pension and health care benefits, amounting to an 8 percent pay cut. Those deductions were supposed to have started earlier this month but are on hold per Sumi's earlier ruling.

The Walker administration is asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to dismiss the original lawsuit brought by the Dane County district attorney and undo the order putting the law on hold. The court has not said whether it will take the case or not.

Republican legislators passed the law in March despite a bitter standoff that resulted in 14 Senate Democrat fleeing to Illinois for three weeks and pro-union protests that drew as many as 85,000 people to the Capitol.

Another rally organized by tea party supporters and featuring former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was expected to attract thousands to the Capitol on Saturday.

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Filed by Elyse Siegel  |