Defending law

Published 10:35 am Friday, May 27, 2011

Daily Herald editorial

A Wisconsin judge has wisely ruled that legislators in erred when they passed a remarkable law earlier this year that largely removed the collective bargaining rights of teachers in that state. The ruling, which came on Thursday, had nothing to do with the content of the law, but rather the manner in which it was passed.

Paralyzed by the decision of Senate Democrats to flee the state, Wisconsin Republicans finally found a legislative maneuver that they believed would let them pass controversial changes to collective bargaining laws. But in implementing their procedural trick, an appeals court judge said, the majority party members failed to provide adequate notice that they were going back into session. Wisconsin’s open meetings laws, similar to those in Minnesota, don’t allow government bodies to hold “surprise” meetings, and the court found that in quickly going back into session the Senate violated that law.

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It is, to be sure, a technicality. But it is an important one. The only way to keep government at least somewhat transparent is to require that public meetings truly be public. And a state’s top elected officials should, in particular, hew to those laws. The Court of Appeals’ ruling this week is not the last word on the matter – Wisconsin’s Supreme Court may yet take a hand in the case. If the state’s highest court does get involved, however, we’re confident it also will recognize and uphold the state’s open meeting law.