In a challenge to Republican leaders, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne has asked a judge to void Gov. Scott Walker's measure to limit collective bargaining for public employees, saying lawmakers violated the state's open meetings law when they pushed the legislation through last week.
In a civil complaint filed Wednesday in Dane County Circuit Court, Ozanne alleges that a joint Assembly-Senate conference committee met without providing the required 24 hours' notice, and that notice of the meeting did not give the public enough information about what would be discussed.
Ozanne also alleges that the space for the meeting, the Senate Parlor, was not large enough to accommodate members of the public and that people who wanted to attend the meeting were barred from entering the Capitol, also in violation of state law.
The complaint also seeks to bar Secretary of State Doug La Follette from publishing the legislation, as he has said he would do on March 25, the last step before it takes effect.
The law, which curtails collective bargaining for most state employees, was adopted by the conference committee and approved by the Senate last Wednesday. The Assembly passed the measure on Thursday, and Walker signed it on Friday.
Ozanne wrote in his complaint that the conference committee vote violated a legislative rule stating that the committee's purpose is to resolve differences between versions of bills passed by the Assembly and the Senate.
In this case, he noted, the Senate brought the bill to the floor and advanced it past the point where it could be amended. But senators never voted on final passage. That's because the body's 14 Democrats were boycotting the session, denying the Republicans who control the Senate the quorum they needed to pass it.
The case is assigned to Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi, the same judge who is hearing Dane County's lawsuit against the state, which also seeks to block enactment of the law.
Ozanne's complaint names as defendants Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon; Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau; Senate president Michael Ellis, R-Neenah; Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford; and La Follette. All but La Follette are Republicans. Ozanne and La Follette are Democrats.
In a statement, Ozanne said he acted based on complaints he received about the committee's actions, including one from Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, a member of the conference committee who strenuously objected to the vote during last week's meeting.
"Our investigation has found merit in the verified complaints, which allows us to commence this litigation," Ozanne wrote in a press release. "This litigation does not address the merits or the wisdom of the legislation."
Bill Cosh, spokesman for Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, said the attorney general will represent the legislators and La Follette. He said, however, that the state's defense will not involve the substance of the bill but only whether the actions of the legislators were defensible.
Senate Chief Clerk Rob Marchant has contended that during special sessions such as the one this month, lawmakers are not required to give advance notice of committee meetings other than posting them on a legislative bulletin board.
But in his complaint, Ozanne wrote that there is no joint rule — the rules that govern joint Assembly-Senate operations such as conference committees — providing an exception to the Open Meetings Law. And that law requires 24 hours' notice "unless for good cause such notice is impossible or impractical."
In that case, the law requires at least two hours' notice. But Ozanne said lawmakers failed to meet even that standard, citing a complaint by Barca that he received notice of the 6 p.m. meeting at 4:20 p.m.
A hearing on Ozanne's motion to immediately prohibit La Follette from publishing the law is scheduled for Thursday morning.
Also Wednesday, the county sought to amend its complaint by dismissing four Republican state legislators as defendants in the case and adding state Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch and Dennis Smith, secretary of the state Department of Health Services.
The lawsuit asks to bar Huebsch and Smith from implementing various changes contained in the bill, which also gives the state Department of Health Services the authority to restrict eligibility, modify benefits and make other changes to Medicaid.