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High court reinstates much of Wisconsin lame duck laws



Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, center, watches as Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers addresses a joint session of the Legislature in the Assembly chambers during the Governor's State of the State speech at the state Capitol, Jan. 22, 2019, in Madison, Wis. Behind Evers is Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Tyler August, left, R-Lake Geneva, and Senate President Roger Roth, R-Appleton. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday reinstated most of the legislation passed by majority Republicans during a lame-duck legislative session aimed at capping the powers of their Democratic rivals.

The high court also blocked a trial that had been scheduled to start Wednesday on a lawsuit challenging one of the laws passed during the session, which came after a midterm election in which Republicans lost the governor and attorney general races.

Much of the lame-duck legislation has been blocked by lower-court judges. One of those judges, Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington, had planned a two-day trial starting Wednesday over a new law requiring state agencies to redo how they publish what are known as guidance documents.

But the conservative-controlled Supreme Court blocked the trial and said it would take over the case. The high court is already considering another lawsuit that challenged the entire lame-duck session on procedural grounds. A federal judge is overseeing another challenge to the lame-duck laws.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s rulings left only two provisions of the lame-duck laws on hold. One would limit early voting and the other would limit the way the guidance documents could be written.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald called the ruling “a win for the people of Wisconsin.”

“The Supreme Court correctly decided the statutes enacted by the Legislature should remain in effect,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “We are confident that the constitutionality of these laws will be upheld when the Court hears the full case in the coming months.”

Lester Pines, an attorney for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the rulings will greatly slow the ability of the Evers administration to respond to routine questions from the public because it will have to take public comments for 21 days on documents it drafts before officially publishing them.

“I think it’s important for the public to know if they send an email about how to comply with the law that it is entirely possible that the response to the email will be substantially delayed,” Pines said.

After Evers and Josh Kaul defeated Republicans to win the governor and attorney general races, the GOP-controlled Legislature called the lame-duck session in December, before the pair took office.

Republicans then passed laws prohibiting Evers from withdrawing from lawsuits without the Legislature’s permission; preventing Kaul from settling lawsuits without legislative approval; requiring Kaul to deposit settlement awards in the state’s general fund instead of in state Department of Justice accounts; and granting the Legislature the right to intervene in lawsuits using its own attorneys rather than DOJ lawyers.

Republicans designed the restrictions to prevent Evers and Kaul from fulfilling campaign pledges to withdraw from a multistate lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act and to ensure that they would have a voice in defending GOP-authored laws that Kaul wouldn’t fight for in court.

This story has been updated to correct the Senate majority leader’s last name. He is Scott Fitzgerald, not Scott Fitzpatrick.

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