MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A police union's lawsuit challenging Gov. Scott Walker's polarizing collective bargaining law will go forward, following a ruling Friday by a Madison judge who refused the state's request to delay proceedings until appeals in another case were settled.
The Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association filed suit in November alleging the law that stripped most public workers of nearly all their union rights violated its members' free speech, association and equal protection rights.
The state Justice Department had asked Judge John Markson to hold off on the case until an appeals court weighed in on another Madison judge's decision to strike down the law as it applies to school and local government workers. DOJ attorneys argued the cases were similar and an appellate ruling would simplify matters.
But Markson disagreed, saying the two cases deal with different parts of the law and have different plaintiffs so there is no reason to wait until an appeals court rules in the other case.
"It's important for both parties to bring a resolution to this as soon as possible," Markson said. "It is also my job and in the general public's interest to move the case forward."
WLEA's attorney Sally Stix applauded the ruling.
"It means we can go forward with having the judge make a decision on the underlying issues we brought," Stix said.
Assistant Attorney General Steven Kilpatrick, who represented the state, declined to comment.
Walker exempted most public safety workers from the collective bargaining law, saying he couldn't risk them going on strike to protest the measure that allows public employee unions to negotiate only for base salary increases no greater than the rate of inflation.
The WLEA represents state troopers, motor vehicle inspectors, University of Wisconsin and Capitol police and Department of Transportation field agents. The state troopers and inspectors were exempted from the law; UW and Capitol police and the DOT agents weren't.
Union officials said in the lawsuit that distinction forced the association to break into two parts because the law left troopers and inspectors with more rights than the UW and Capitol police officers and DOT agents.
They also accused Walker of retaliating against law enforcement groups that didn't endorse him during his 2010 campaign. They pointed out the Wisconsin Troopers Association, which handles lobbying for the troopers and inspectors, backed Walker while UW officers, Capitol police and DOT agents endorsed no one.
"There is no compelling state interest that justifies the differential treatment of represented law enforcement employees under (the collective bargaining law) based on the represented employees exercise of associational, speech, petition, and advocacy rights," the lawsuit said.
In the other lawsuit, Madison teachers and Milwaukee city workers' argued the collective bargaining restrictions were unconstitutional because they capped only union workers' raises, leaving nonunion workers free to seek larger increases. Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas agreed in September, ruling the cap violated constitutional free speech, free association and equal representation rights. It's unclear whether his ruling applies statewide or just to teachers and local government workers in Madison and Milwaukee.
The state's largest teachers union also contended that exempting public safety workers violated equal protection rights in a 2011 federal lawsuit. U.S. District Judge William Conley rejected those arguments last year and left most of the law intact. Union chapters representing Madison city workers and Dane County workers have raised similar equal protection and free speech issues in a separate federal lawsuit that's still pending.
Stix now has 60 days to file a motion for summary judgment, in which she will ask the judge to rule in the union's favor.
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