Senate Republicans ram through anti-union legislation, Dems claim meeting illegalRepublicans in the Wisconsin Senate voted Wednesday night to strip nearly all collective bargaining rights from public workers after discovering a way to bypass the chamber’s missing Democrats.
By: Scott Bauer, Associated Press, Superior Telegram
Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate voted Wednesday night to strip nearly all collective bargaining rights from public workers after discovering a way to bypass the chamber’s missing Democrats.
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 so-called “budget repair bill” — a proposal introduced to plug a $137 million budget shortfall.
The Senate requires a quorum to take up any measures that spend money. But Republicans on Wednesday split from the legislation the proposal to curtail union rights, which spends no money, and a special conference committee of state lawmakers approved the bill a short time later.
The lone Democrat present on the conference committee, Rep. Peter Barca, shouted that the surprise meeting was a violation of the state’s open meetings law but Republicans voted over his objections. The Senate convened within minutes and passed the measure without discussion or debate.
Before the sudden votes, Democratic Sen. Bob Jauch of Poplar said if Republicans “chose to ram this bill through in this fashion, it will be to their political peril. They’re changing the rules. They will inflame a very frustrated public.”
Walker said after the votes that Senate Democrats had plenty of opportunities to come home.
“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,” the governor said in a statement.
Walker’s proposal has touched off a national debate over union rights and prompted tens of thousands of demonstrators to converge on Wisconsin’s capital for weeks of protests. Spectators in the gallery Wednesday night screamed “You are cowards” as the Senate voted.
“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. Tomorrow we will join the people of Wisconsin in taking back their government.”
About 200 protesters chanted “occupy” and “general strike” as they vowed to remain inside the Wisconsin Capitol after the Senate.
The Senate hastily passed the bill 18-1 on Wednesday evening, setting off the latest protests. They have gathered the past three weeks, often in the thousands, to protest the measure proposed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Some protesters tried to gain access to the Senate gallery during the vote, but were denied access by Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs.
Protest organizer Erika Wolfe told the crowd that legal options were being evaluated.
The 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.
Democrats had been calling all day Wednesday for Walker and Republicans to compromise.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said earlier that Republicans had been discussing concessions Walker’s office had offered, including allowing public workers to bargain over their salaries without a wage limit. Several GOP senators facing recall efforts had publicly called for compromise.
Union leaders weren’t happy with the concessions, and Democrats had not signed off on them.
“The lying, cheating and corrupt senate Republicans just illegally voted on stripping away workers rights. They did it under the cover of darkness, with the public locked out of the Capitol,” Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, posted on Facebook tonight.
“This is truly a sad night for Wisconsin democracy,” state Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point said in a prepared statement. “In the dark of night, in blatant violation of open meeting laws, and without even having a bill in front of them, the Republican leaders of the Assembly and Senate used a shady procedural move to end 50 years of workers’ rights in Wisconsin. Deaf to the pleas of the overwhelming majority of Wisconsin citizens, Gov. Walker and Republican legislators have demonstrated absolute contempt for the democratic process. They should be ashamed of themselves.”
Telegram editor Shelley Nelson contributed to this report.