Wisconsin’s Republican leaders appear to be taking the same confident and bullish approach to implementing their divisive collective bargaining law that they took to passing it, suggesting they may ignore a judge’s warning there would be consequences for moving ahead while challenges to the law are pending.
Gov. Scott Walker and his allies in the Republican-controlled Legislature believe they are on solid legal ground as they push forth on a course that could deepen an already toxic crisis in the state’s government.
Sidestepping Democratic state senators who played hooky to block the law’s passage may have angered political opponents, but defying a judge’s orders — however imprecise — could put GOP lawmakers and state officials at risk of being found in contempt and could lend weight to accusations the Republicans consider themselves above the law.
“It’s dangerous. Arguably they’re in contempt of court already,” University of Wisconsin law professor Howard Schweber said Wednesday, referring to preparations under way by Walker’s administration to begin deducting more money from most public employees’ paychecks for health and pension plan costs and to stop deducting union dues.
The deductions, which would amount to an average 8 percent pay cut, would be reflected in the workers’ April 21 paychecks, Walker’s top aide said Monday.
The Republicans argue the law, which also would strip most public workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights, took effect last weekend because a state office posted it online. Typically, a law takes effect in Wisconsin the day after it’s published in the state’s official newspaper upon the order of the secretary of state. But Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi ordered the secretary of state not to have it published until she could hear arguments in one of several lawsuits challenging the law.
On Tuesday, Sumi reiterated that her order barring action by the secretary of state still was in effect. She threatened to sanction anyone who disobeyed the order, saying she wanted to be “crystal clear” that no further action on its implementation should be taken.
But she didn’t rule on the underlying question of whether the law had indeed taken effect. That decision could come during a Friday hearing.