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Prolonged lawsuit threatens sick-leave law

Milwaukee’s proposed sick-leave law might be tangled in court for as long as two years. And in two years the Common Council and mayor could opt to work toward its repeal.
Sangita Nayak, lead organizer for 9to5 Milwaukee, National Association of Working Women, on behalf of her group, alleges this is a motivation behind the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s lawsuit challenging the law’s legality.
“I think it fits into the opposition’s strategy for delay,” she said.
Thomas Cooper, Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge, said the case will go to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In fact, he predicted it several times Friday while ruling to delay enforcement of the law until the MMAC’s challenge is decided.
Cooper scheduled a May 11 court date to decide on the MMAC’s suit.
“It’s an absolute, dead-solid certainty that whatever decision I make will be appealed,” he said. “Get yourselves ready for the long haul.”
The possibility the legal battle could last two years, particularly if it reaches the Wisconsin Supreme Court, is not lost on Joe Olson, the attorney representing the MMAC, though he said the legal team is not counting on it as a legal strategy. There is no way to know what city officials will think of the law in two years, he said.
“Quite frankly, I don’t know what this group of legislators would’ve done,” said Olson, who practices with Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, Milwaukee.
City aldermen never voted on the sick-leave law (PDF) because it was approved through referendum (PDF) in November. The next city elections for aldermen won’t be until 2012, and the Common Council right now seems split on the ordinance, said Alderman Robert Donovan. He said he did not know aldermen could reject or rewrite the ordinance in two years, and he said he will still oppose it then.
“I just think it’s bad public policy, and I think it would create an island here in Milwaukee,” Donovan said. “I don’t know what’s going to be happening down the road. It’s going to be interesting.”
Although the Common Council was legally required to introduce a version of the law after the referendum became official, Donovan cast the lone vote against it.
“We all have an obligation to at least use the bully pulpit,” he said.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s office referred to city attorneys any questions about re-examining the law in two years. Barrett spoke out against the sick-leave law in 2008.
Alderman Ashanti Hamilton said he would like to revise the law in 2010 because the public legislative process could improve the rules. Hamilton said he was neither for nor against the law because he agreed with the arguments from both sides.
“There are some people who are strong advocates for it and some people who are strong advocates against it, and they’re on the council,” he said. “And that recipe definitely leads to some changes.”

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