A spokesman for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Thursday that the state will comply with a court order to temporarily halt the implementation of a notorious anti-union law, pending a court challenge.
Last week, the Walker administration stunned the nation by declaring the bill to have the force of law and announcing plans to collect additional pension contributions from state employees — despite a temporary restraining order blocking enactment of the bill. Contrary to popular belief, a bill does not become law in Wisconsin the moment the governor signs it. The legislation is only embued with the force law after it is published through the correct procedural channels.
According to the head of Wisconsin’s legislative reference bureau (LRB), a bill becomes law when it is published in the state’s official newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal, by order of the Secretary of State. This has not yet happened. The bill was published on the LRB website, but according to the LRB, that doesn’t count.
The issue is not whether the bill was published by someone, or even by some government agency. Publication only turns a bill into a law when it is published in the specified outlet, under the authority of the Secretary of State.
Gov. Walker signed the bill on March 11. Secretary of State Doug La Follette notified the LRB on March 14 that he had designated March 25 as the date of publication.
However, on March 18, Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi issued a temporary restraining order barring La Follette from ordering the publication of the law. Whereupon, La Follette ordered the LRB not to publish the legislation. The LRB ignored his directive and published the bill on its website on March 25.
La Follette has not given the order to publish the law in the newspaper. The court order forbids him to do so. The LRB wasn’t mentioned in the court orders, so there was no legal barrier to the LRB publishing the document. It’s a separate question whether publishing legislation on the LRB website makes it law. Judge Sumi ruled that it does not.
The Walker administration initially claimed that publishing the law on the LRB website was enough to make it law.
On Tuesday the 29th, after a day of hearings, Judge Sumi issued a second restraining order.
“Now that I’ve made my earlier order as clear as it possibly can be, I must state that those who act in open and willful defiance of the court order place not only themselves at peril of sanctions, they also jeopardize the financial and the governmental stability of the state of Wisconsin,” Sumi warned.
On Thursday morning, Sumi issued an amended restraining order blocking the implementation of the law. The order states that the law has not been published in the relevant legal sense and is therefore not in effect.
The publication of Walker’s so-called Budget Repair bill (aka “2011 Wisconsin Act 10”) is being held up pending a court challenge. The local district attorney wants the legislation struck down because the Republicans allegedly violated the state’s Open Meetings Law with a last-minute senate conference committee meeting before the vote.
The law is also facing lawsuits filed by Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and several unions, who argue that that State Senate lacked the authority to pass the Budget Repair Bill without a quorum because the bill contains fiscal components.