Wisconsin Assembly passes budget bill

Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly abruptly passed a measure that would strip collective bargaining rights from most public workers. The vote ended three straight days of punishing debate, but the political firestorm is far from over. (Feb. 25)
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 25, 2011; 4:02 PM

MADISON, WIS. - Demonstrators continued to throng the Capitol Rotunda on Friday after the Wisconsin State Assembly voted that morning to approve a budget measure to end most of the collective-bargaining rights of public workers. The spending plan proposed by Gov. Scott Walker (R) has sparked fiery demonstrations by more than 60,000 union supporters at the State Capitol for nearly two weeks.

At the Capitol, banners saying "Caring for the people not the corporations of Wisconsin" and "Walker is High on Koch" (a reference to the support the governor receives from the conservative billionaires) were slung over railings and hung on the walls. Other protesters marched outside, some banging drums and all condemning what they called an attack on union power.

Walker was steadfast. In a statement after the vote, he praised the Assembly and said the Democratic senators who fled the state to prevent a vote on the bill that the Republican majority would pass should return to the Capitol.

"The 14 Senate Democrats need to come home and do their jobs, just like the Assembly Democrats did," Walker said.

The governor has threatened to begin laying off as many as 1,500 public employees if the bill has not passed the Senate by the end of the week -- the deadline for the state to refinance its bonds and realize savings before the end of the fiscal year.

The Assembly vote came after a marathon three-day filibuster by Democrats. That sends the bill to the state Senate, which, without at least one Democratic senator present, does not have the quorum to call a vote.

On Thursday, Republican leaders in several states softened their attacks on public employee unions in an effort to avert the demonstrations that have gripped Madison.

In Ohio, Republican lawmakers agreed to modify a bill that would have banned collective bargaining, allowing state workers to negotiate on wages. Michigan's GOP governor offered to negotiate with public employees rather than create political gridlock. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) called on GOP lawmakers to abandon their "right to work" bill that would have made it a misdemeanor for an employer to require workers to become or remain members of a labor union.

On Thursday, the Wisconsin Senate dispatched state troopers to the homes of the senators who have vowed to stay in Illinois until Walker negotiates on the budget bill. The troopers were unable to find any of the lawmakers.

Although police cannot arrest the members, Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has said that he hopes his colleagues will feel compelled to come back to debate the bill. The Republicans need only one Democrat to return to hold a vote on the budget legislation.

Democratic state Sen. Robert Jauch, a longtime Wisconsin lawmaker, said Thursday that despite rumors that some of his colleagues had returned to the state, "everybody is outside of Wisconsin . . . all of us."

Jauch criticized what he called the "police state mentality" of Republicans in the Capitol and took issue with Walker's assertions that Democrats who had fled the state were abandoning their duties.

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