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Supreme Court urged to take Wis. unions lawsuit

Scott Bauer, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- A state appeals court on Thursday urged the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take a case brought by two unions challenging the constitutionality of Gov. Scott Walker's law effectively ending collective bargaining for most public workers.

The 4th District Court of Appeals, noting ongoing uncertainty about the law's status, said "it is hard to imagine a dispute with greater statewide effect or with a greater need for a final resolution."

The case was brought by unions representing Madison school teachers and city of Milwaukee workers. A Dane County circuit judge last year overturned the law as unconstitutional, but it was unclear if the ruling applied outside Madison and Milwaukee.

The Department of Justice tried and failed to have that ruling put on hold while its appeal was pending, arguing uncertainty over the law's status was creating chaos and confusion among local governments. The appeals court, which rejected that request for a stay, noted the uncertainty Thursday.

"We urge the Supreme Court to accept this certification and put these legal issues to rest," the appeals court said.

The Supreme Court could choose to take the case directly, or send it back to the appeals court to rule first.

Earlier this week the unions that brought the lawsuit asked the circuit court to issue an injunction to block the Walker administration from moving forward with writing administrative rules that would implement portions of the law found to be null and void.

The lawsuit was brought by Madison Teachers Inc. and Public Employees Local 61, AFL-CIO, which represents city of Milwaukee workers.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen called the appeals court request for the Supreme Court to take the case a positive development.

"I continue to believe that Act 10 is constitutional in all respects and anticipate that our Supreme Court will come to the same conclusion," he said, referring to the official name of the collective bargaining law.

Lester Pines, one of the attorneys who brought the lawsuit, had no immediate comment.

The law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011 applied to all public employees except police, firefighters, local transit workers and emergency medical service employees. It limits collective bargaining on wage increases to the rate of inflation. Other issues, such as workplace safety, vacation and health benefits, were excluded from collective bargaining.

In his original ruling, Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas said the law violates school and local employees' constitutional rights to free speech, free association and equal representation because it caps union workers' raises but not those of their nonunion counterparts.

The decision allowed schools and local governments to bargain with their employees, and several, including those in Madison, acted quickly to take advantage of the window to reach new contacts.

Anger about passage of the law, which generated weeks of protests, led to an effort to recall Walker and several state senators from office. Walker won the June recall election, becoming the first governor in U.S. history to prevail in a recall.