MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin officials couldn’t agree Friday about whether an explosive law taking away nearly all public worker collective bargaining rights was about to take effect after a nonpartisan legislative bureau published it despite a court order blocking implementation.
The Legislative Reference Bureau took the action at 3:15 p.m. Friday, sending confused lawmakers and legal experts scrambling to determine what’s next for the measure that has brought waves of chaos to the state since it first was proposed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Legislative Reference Bureau director Steve Miller insisted the action doesn’t mean the law takes effect today. He said that won’t actually happen until Secretary of State Doug La Follette orders the law published in a newspaper, and a judge ordered last week that La Follette not do anything.
“It’s not implementation at all,” Miller said. “It’s simply a matter of forwarding an official copy to the secretary of state.”
La Follette said he didn’t know what the action means, but he’s not doing anything given the court order.
“I think we’re going to have to get some legal opinion on this,” he said.
But Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who said he went to the Reference Bureau with the idea, said the action means the law takes effect today.
“It’s my opinion it’s published, it’s on the legislative website, it’s law,” Fitzgerald said.
Walker’s top aide Mike Huebsch, secretary of the Department of Administration, issued a statement saying he had been notified that the law had been published.
“The administration will carry out the law as required,” Huebsch said.
Requests for additional clarification about whether the governor believed the law was indeed in effect were not returned.
A judge last week issued a temporary restraining order blocking any further implementation of the law while the court considers challenges to its approval. The order specifically blocked La Follette from publishing the law.
But the Reference Bureau said it’s still required to publish every new law within 10 working days after it’s signed by the governor, on the date designated by the secretary of state.
Walker signed the collective bargaining measure March 11 and La Follette had designated Friday as the date of publication. But after the judge’s restraining order, La Follette sent a letter to the Reference Bureau saying he was rescinding his setting of the publication date.
The new law requires nearly all public-sector workers to contribute more to their pensions and health insurance, changes that amount to an average 8 percent pay cut. It also strips them of their ability to collectively bargain for anything except wages no higher than inflation.
Union leaders were outraged by the latest twist in the ongoing saga.