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7 Bumps

Awin for the tapayers in Wisconsin.

MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin Senate succeeded in voting Wednesday to strip nearly all collective bargaining rights from public workers, after Republicans outmaneuvered the chamber's missing Democrats and approved an explosive proposal that has rocked the state and unions nationwide.

"You are cowards!" spectators in the Senate gallery screamed as lawmakers voted. Within hours, a crowd of a few hundred protesters inside the Capitol had grown to several thousand, more than had been in the building at any point during weeks of protests.

"The whole world is watching!" they shouted as they pressed up against the heavily guarded entrance to the Senate chamber.

All 14 Senate Democrats fled to Illinois nearly three weeks ago, preventing the chamber from having enough members present to consider Gov. Scott Walker's "budget-repair bill" — a proposal introduced to plug a $137 million budget shortfall.

The Senate requires a quorum to take up any measures that spends money. But Republicans on Wednesday took all the spending measures out of the legislation and a special committee of lawmakers from both the Senate and Assembly approved the revised bill a short time later.

The unexpected yet surprisingly simple procedural move ended a stalemate that had threatened to drag on indefinitely. Until Wednesday's stunning vote, it appeared the standoff would persist until Democrats returned to Madison from their self-imposed exile.

"In 30 minutes, 18 state senators undid 50 years of civil rights in Wisconsin. Their disrespect for the people of Wisconsin and their rights is an outrage that will never be forgotten," said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller. "Tonight, 18 Senate Republicans conspired to take government away from the people."

The state Assembly previously approved the original proposal and was set to consider the new measure on Thursday. Miller said in an interview with The Associated Press there is nothing Democrats can do now to stop the bill: "It's a done deal."

The lone Democrat present on the special committee, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, shouted that the meeting was a violation of the state's open meetings law. The Senate's chief clerk said hours later the meeting was properly held.

Senate convened within minutes of the committee meeting and passed the measure 18-1 without discussion or debate. Republican Sen. Dale Schultz cast the lone no vote.

"The jig is now up," Barca said. "The fraud on the people of Wisconsin is now clear."

Walker had repeatedly argued that collective bargaining was a budget issue, because his proposed changes would give local governments the flexibility to confront budget cuts needed to close the state's $3.6 billion deficit. He has said that without the changes, he may have needed to lay off 1,500 state workers and make other cuts to balance the budget.

Walker said Wednesday night that Democrats had three weeks to debate the bill and were offered repeated opportunities to come back, but refused.

"I applaud the Legislature's action today to stand up to the status quo and take a step in the right direction to balance the budget and reform government," Walker said in the statement.

The measure approved Wednesday forbids most government workers from collectively bargaining for wage increases beyond the rate of inflation. It also requires public workers to pay more toward their pensions and double their health insurance contribution, a combination equivalent to an 8 percent pay cut for the average worker.

Police and firefighters are exempt.

Walker's proposal touched off a national debate over union rights for public employees and prompted tens of thousands of demonstrators to converge on Wisconsin's capital city for weeks of protests.

Wednesday's drama unfolded less than four hours after Walker met with GOP senators in a closed-door meeting. He emerged from the meeting saying senators were "firm" in their support of the bill.

For weeks, Democrats had offered concessions on issues other than the bargaining rights and they spent much of Wednesday again calling on Walker and Republicans to compromise.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said earlier that Republicans had been discussing concessions offered by Walker, including allowing public workers to bargain over their salaries without a wage limit. Several GOP senators facing recall efforts had also publicly called for a compromise.

"The people of Wisconsin elected us to come to Madison and do a job," Fitzgerald said in a statement after the vote. "Just because the Senate Democrats won't do theirs, doesn't mean we won't do ours."

Union leaders weren't happy with Walker's offer, and were furious at the Senate's move to push the measure forward with a quick vote. Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin state AFL-CIO, said after Wednesday's vote that Republicans exercised a "nuclear option."

"Scott Walker and the Republicans' ideological war on the middle class and working families is now indisputable," Neuenfeldt said.

While talks had been going on sporadically behind the scenes, Republicans in the Senate also had publicly tried to ratchet up pressure on Democrats to return. They had agreed earlier Wednesday to start fining Democrats $100 for each day legislative session day they miss.

Answer Question

Asked by Carpy at 10:48 PM on Mar. 9, 2011 in Politics & Current Events

Level 39 (114,053 Credits)
Answers (26)
  • Good! That is a HUGE win!

    Answer by DSamuels at 10:52 PM on Mar. 9, 2011

  • Curious to see what some have to say. They can't get mad at how it was done since Dems rammed Healthcare down the Repubs throats. We will see what the people of Wisconsin have to say not the people from out of state who are there protesting.

    Answer by Anonymous at 10:53 PM on Mar. 9, 2011

  • "Tonight, 18 Senate Republicans conspired to take government away from the people."

    Riiiiight by giving the POWER to the PEOPLE of local municipalities... What an idiot...


    Answer by grlygrlz2 at 10:54 PM on Mar. 9, 2011

  • wow. Check, and mate.

    Answer by lovinangels at 10:55 PM on Mar. 9, 2011

  • That's what happens whe the Senate Democrats run away from the issues that affect the commonwealth of the people. If the democratic citizens of Wisconsin are unhappy, then make sure you don't vote for these Senators in the next election. Democratic Senators have no right to complain if they can't stand up and fight!

    Answer by Kathy675 at 10:59 PM on Mar. 9, 2011

  • The Democrats had called earlier on Wednesday for Republicans to compromise over public-sector unions' bargaining rights. But Mr Walker's proposal was approved by a special conference committee after it was stripped of financial measures, meaning a quorum was no longer needed in the Senate. Only one Democrat was present to vote against the legislation.

    The huge benefit to taxpayers didn't have anything financial in the bill when it passed.  The only thing this bill did was strip unions of bargaining rights.

    As I am sure you know, the Dems had agreed to all cuts to the budget, as long as the union rights legislation was kept out of the bill. 


    Answer by stacymomof2 at 11:01 PM on Mar. 9, 2011

  • Hopefully this will be the start of the end of this issue before it swallows the teaching profession whole and people will stop characterizing teachers as under worked and over paid- this went from tenure to pay to performance to who knows what-

    Answer by soyousay at 11:01 PM on Mar. 9, 2011

  • Far from ending the controversy, the talk of legal action is already burning up the wires. Now starts the court battles and associated expenses, whether right or wrong, this has not brought an end to the situation.


    Answer by emptynstr at 11:21 PM on Mar. 9, 2011

  • He tried reason first

    In the latest offer by Walker aides put together on Sunday evening:

    • The bill would no longer seek to limit public employee union bargaining over wages to the rate of inflation.

    • The bill would allow union bargaining over certain economic issues, including mandatory overtime, performance bonuses, hazardous duty pay, and classroom size. On this set of issues, both labor and management would have to agree to discuss them for bargaining to happen.

    • The bill would allow bargaining over workplace safety.

    • Union contracts for public employees would be limited to a one- or two-year period.

    • Unions would have to vote every three years to remain active. The current version of the bill would require unions to vote to recertify every year and require them to get at least 51% of workers' votes.

    Answer by Charis76 at 11:29 PM on Mar. 9, 2011

  • • Employees of the UW Hospital and Clinics Authority would not lose all union bargaining rights.

    • The Legislature's budget committee would explicitly have to approve changes to state health programs for the poor sought by the Walker administration. The budget-repair bill gives Walker broad powers to reshape those Medicaid health programs

    But it wasn't good enough.

    Answer by Charis76 at 11:29 PM on Mar. 9, 2011

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