A creative take on the rule of law in Wisconsin

A CREATIVE TAKE ON THE RULE OF LAW IN WISCONSIN…. In Wisconsin, a measure doesn’t become state law immediately after the governor puts his/her signature on a bill passed by the legislature. The process concludes, and the bill becomes a law, once it’s published by the Wisconsin Secretary of State’s office.

Most of the time, this is just a formality. But last week, a state judge blocked Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) union-busting measure with a restraining order, barring the Secretary of State’s office from publishing the law because of its apparent conflict with the state’s open-meeting laws. The meaure, the state judge said, could not take effect.

There were a variety of possible next steps. Wisconsin Republicans ignoring the restraining order wasn’t one of the options, but that’s apparently what happened late yesterday afternoon.

A law to limit collective bargaining rights for public workers in Wisconsin was unexpectedly published by a state agency on Friday despite a temporary restraining order barring publication, sparking confusion and more animosity among legislators who have fiercely debated the issue for weeks.

State officials disagreed over whether publication of the law — a procedural requirement — would allow it to be in force on Saturday. The state’s Legislative Reference Bureau said it is required to publish all laws within 10 days after they are enacted. Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, signed the bill on March 11, but a county judge issued an order last week blocking the secretary of state from publishing it. The order did not bar the legislative bureau from publishing the law.

Democrats argued on Friday that the law would not go into effect on Saturday because it still required official publication by the secretary of state…. But Republicans said they believed the law would take effect on Saturday. Senator Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican and the majority leader, said publishing the law was the right thing to do and the Legislature could now focus on the budget.

Confused yet?

The process is supposed to go as follows: bill passes legislature, bill signed by governor, bill published by Secretary of State’s office, law. Republicans decided yesterday they’d create a new process, just off the top of their heads: bill passes legislature, bill signed by governor, bill goes around by Secretary of Sate’s office, bill published by the Legislative Reference Bureau, law.

Since when can the Legislative Reference Bureau do the job of the Secretary of State’s office? Apparently, as of yesterday, after Republicans made it up.

Oddly enough, the Legislative Reference Bureau itself says it can’t publish a measure into law, but state Republicans are ignoring this assessment, too.

So, as of right now, where do things stand? Wisconsin Republicans believe the union-busting scheme is state law, while Wisconsin Democrats believe the union-busting scheme has been blocked by a court restraining order. Wisconsin Republicans believe they’ve come up with a way to ignore a court order — rarely a good idea — while Wisconsin Democrats believe Republicans can’t just blow off the rule of law when they feel like it.

Expect quite a bit more action in the courts.

If progressives were looking for more motivation to recall an out-of-control state GOP, this ought to do the trick.