Three visibly uncomfortable staffers of the Legislative Reference Bureau, including the bureau director, testified Tuesday about what appears to be a pivotal, early morning meeting with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald that led to the bureau publishing the controversial collective bargaining bill.
Stephen Miller, the bureau's director, said that he arrived to work around 9:15 a.m. on Friday, March 25, and was soon made aware of a 9:30 a.m. meeting with Fitzgerald, R-Juneau.
Miller said he did not know what the meeting was about until after it began.
Miller said Fitzgerald then expressed to those in attendance that "we should publish it."
According to testimony, Senate Chief Clerk Rob Marchant, Cathlene Hanaman, the deputy chief of the bureau, and Jeff Kuesel, an attorney with the reference bureau, were also present at the meeting.
The hearing Tuesday before Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi had been scheduled to review the judge's March 18 temporary restraining order barring Secretary of State Doug La Follette from publishing Gov. Scott Walker's controversial budget repair bill. But it also included testimony concerning the bill's publication Friday by the reference bureau.
Signed by Walker on March 11, the bill eliminates nearly all collective bargaining rights for most public employees. By law, the secretary of state has 10 days to publish a bill after it is signed by the governor. It then takes effect the next day.
This process was interrupted, however, when Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne filed suit charging a hastily called meeting of lawmakers March 9 violated the state's open meetings law. The meeting was a first step toward the Senate approving the bill later that evening, with the Assembly voting on it the following day.
Hanaman said Fitzgerald was told at Friday's meeting that a bill does not become law until after it is published by the secretary of state. When pressed by Attorney Robert Jambrois, who is representing Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, over whether Fitzgerald "insisted" the bill be published by the reference bureau on March 25, Hanaman hesitated several times before answering.
"He is our boss," she finally said. "His asking could be seen as insisting."
Miller then testified that Fitzgerald told him to call Kevin St. John at the Attorney General's Office if he had any questions. Miller said he had only called the Attorney General's Office a few other times since he began working at the bureau in 1998. Miller said he was not aware St. John was the deputy attorney general, or No. 2 in command.
"I was already committed to doing it (publishing the bill), but I wanted to clarify my thinking on it," Miller said. "I though it might make me feel better."
Miller said his conversation with St. John was brief. He said St. John told him the reference bureau would be acting in accordance with state statute and could be subject to civil action if it decided not to publish it.
Sumi said the hearing would continue through Tuesday afternoon and resume Friday before a ruling was made by the court.
Miller has repeatedly stated that he did not believe the actions of the non-partisan reference bureau would make the bill law.
The state, however, has stopped collecting union dues from state employee paychecks and the state Department of Administration has indicated state employee paychecks, as of April 21, will reflect the 12.6 percent health-care contribution and 5.8 percent contribution toward pensions contained in the budget repair bill.