By Jason Stein and Patrick Marley of the Journal Sentinel
Madison - Gov. Scott Walker's administration is no longer collecting dues on behalf of state unions and as of Sunday began charging employees more for health care and their pensions, even though nonpartisan legislative attorneys say the changes are not yet law.
Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch said Monday administration attorneys have determined the law is now in effect. State workers will receive paychecks April 21 that reflect the changes, he said in a conference call with reporters.
In addition to requiring state, local and school employees to pay more for their benefits, the measure ends most collective bargaining for public workers. The law also bars the state from charging dues to employees and passing them on to unions, as it has done for years.
The changes to collective bargaining drew massive protests at the state Capitol and prompted Senate Democrats to leave the state for three weeks in an effort to block the bill.
Other attorneys do not agree the law is now in effect, and the courts will be the final arbiter of whether the law goes into effect. Huebsch said he would abide by a ruling from a judge.
Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi earlier this month blocked Secretary of State Doug La Follette from publishing the law, while she considers a case that argues lawmakers improperly adopted the law because a committee violated the open meetings law. But on Friday, the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau - which is not under the court order - published the law.
"It is now my legal responsibility to begin enactment of the law," Huebsch said.
Before Sumi issued the restraining order, La Follette had set Friday as the date to publish the law. He later rescinded it, but Huebsch said he did not believe La Follette had the power to do that.
Normally, La Follette designates a date of publication and arranges for it to appear in the official state newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal. Separately, state statutes require the reference bureau to publish the law, which includes marking the date of publication on the bill as it appears on the Legislature's website.
The law takes effect a day after it is published.
On Saturday, La Follette said that the budget-repair bill has not taken effect because it has not been published by his office.
"It's still an act of the Legislature that has not yet become law because I have not yet designated a publication date," La Follette said.
He added the law cannot take effect until he directs publication in the State Journal.
The director of the reference bureau, Stephen Miller, said Friday that publishing the bill was a "ministerial act" and that it still had to be published in the official state newspaper for it to become effective.
Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (D-Monona) said the Huebsch's stance "is just another example of how desperate the governor and the Republican leadership is to try to circumvent the law and circumvent having a court determine whether or not they acted appropriately with the law."
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, a Democrat, filed a complaint this month to block the law. He claimed a committee of lawmakers violated the open meetings law when they approved the measure, advancing the measure for passage by the Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate.
Republicans said they did not violate the meetings law.
On March 18, Sumi issued a restraining order to block La Follette from publishing the law. The state Department of Justice has appealed the order and an appeals court said the state Supreme Court should take the case. The high court has not yet said whether it will take the case.
The dispute over the publication of the law adds a new wrinkle that will continue to be litigated.
"Our position is clear, we don't think the bill was published," Ozanne said Saturday while working in his office in Madison.
A hearing on the merits of Ozanne's case is set for Tuesday in Sumi's court.
On Monday, Ozanne said he would file a witness list and other documents with the court by the end of the day.
Asked if he would be seeking a motion to further restrain the state from implementing the new law, Ozanne said: "We'll be taking all that up at the hearing tomorrow."
Also Monday, unions representing Madison city workers that filed suit over the new law last week asked to consolidate their case with one filed earlier by Dane County officials.
The latest lawsuit was filed Friday by two unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO - Firefighters Local 311 and Laborers Local 236. The request by the groups would combine their suit with one filed March 11 by Dane County, County Executive Kathleen Falk and others.
Bill Glauber of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.