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Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009

MMAC Lawsuit Frivolous

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This is not about the merits about the paid-sick days referendum recently passed by an overwhelming majority of Milwaukee voters. Convincing arguments both against and for the law, which will require city employers to provide up to 9 paid sick days to their employees, were made to the public previous to the polling date. The referendum passed and is scheduled to become law on Feb. 10.

This is a straightforward example of how democracy works. A proposal is floated, arguments are made, a vote is taken, and either the ayes or nays carry the day, with inevitable grousing from the losing side. Too bad, so sad.

But this is also not about the contentious issue of direct legislation. It is argued that we have a representative democracy so that our elected officials can introduce, debate, and pass laws which hopefully will be of benefit to the citizenry. Left unchecked, the founding fathers feared that direct legislation by a simple will of the majority would lead to unfair laws and chaos. Put it to a direct vote before the people, and we might well see any number of highly controversial measures encoded into law. Witness the outrage in California following the passage of Proposition 8, which basically eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry. There was much grousing by the losing side, and to them also, I say "hard cheese."

Rather, this is about the proper forum and means to change a law with which one may disagree. I maintain that the proper course of action is to try to get a bill introduced for consideration, either for passage or repeal. Both the proponents of the paid-sick days referendum in Wisconsin and the opponents of gay marriage in California diligently worked for years, organizing, gathering signatures, and working within constitutionally protected means to get their notions before the public and the legislature. If a group is unhappy with a law, they are certainly free to employ identical means to attempt to repeal whatever measure they are unhappy about.

What seems counterproductive, and indeed somewhat subversive to the clearly expressed "will of the people," is when, following passage of a law by long-established means, a group of dissatisfied citizens goes to the court system to find redress. Such is the case now with the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), which has filed suit against the City of Milwaukee, attempting to prevent the new law from taking effect. The lawsuit should be immediately dismissed, as it is without merit. A similar lawsuit was dismissed in San Francisco after that community enacted an identical measure mandating paid sick days for workers, so a precedent in law already exists. Milwaukee taxpayers will also be forced to spend thousands of dollars defending the new law. If the MMAC is unhappy with the law, I again maintain that they should work to introduce a repeal referendum on the next ballot, spending their own money to do so, rather than force the citizens of Milwaukee to spend money defending a law which most of the people have already voted in favor of.

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