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Judge blocks contentious Wisconsin union law

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- A Wisconsin judge issued a temporary restraining order today blocking the state's new and contentious collective bargaining law from taking effect, raising the possibility that the Legislature may have to vote again to pass the bill.

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Lawmakers had passed Gov. Scott Walker's measure last week, breaking a three-week stalemate caused by 14 Senate Democrats fleeing to Illinois. Demonstrations against the measure grew as large as 85,000 people.

Dane County District Judge Maryann Sumi granted the order in response to a lawsuit filed by the local Democratic district attorney alleging that Republican lawmakers violated the state's open meetings law by hastily convening a special committee before the Senate passed the bill.

Sumi said her ruling would not prevent the Legislature from reconvening the committee with proper notice and passing the bill again.

Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie would not comment on whether the governor would push to call the Legislature back to pass the bill again, either in its current form or with any changes. Werwie said Walker was confident the bill would become law in the near future.

"This legislation is still working through the legal process," Werwie said.

A spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald declined to comment, citing the ongoing legal fight. A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Even if the Legislature is forced to come back and take up the bill again, at least one Senate Democrat will be there. Sen. Tim Cullen said he would not leave the state again.

"I think that does great damage to the institution," Cullen said. "I have no regrets about doing it once, but that was in extraordinary times to try to slow the bill down."

The Senate couldn't pass the bill in its original form without at least one Democrat to meet a 20-member quorum requirement for measures that spend money. With the Democrats in Illinois and refusing to return after three weeks away, Republicans convened a special committee last Wednesday to remove the spending items. The bill then passed with no Democrats present.

That move is being challenged in another lawsuit brought by Democratic Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who argues the bill as passed still should have required the 20-member quorum. The same judge that issued the temporary restraining order was taking testimony today in that case, but has said she would not issue a ruling today.

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