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March 10th, 2011
Wisconsin Republicans Win, Pass Bill Without Democrats

Because those Democrats are the peaceful type protesters.

Madison With Democrats still in Illinois, the state Senate abruptly voted Wednesday night to eliminate collective bargaining provisions for most public workers that have stood for decades, sending a flood of angry protesters into the Capitol.

That house has already passed a nearly identical version of the wide-ranging bill, which Gov. Scott Walker introduced last month to address a budget shortfall.

The new version passed the Senate 18-1, with Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) voting no.

From Feb. 17 until Wednesday, the Senate Democrats were able to block a vote on the original version of the bill because the state constitution requires 20 senators to be present for bills that authorize spending money. Republicans control the house 19-14.

Republicans devised a plan to get around the impasse and hurriedly approved the bill late in the day after meeting for hours behind closed doors. Walker met with them for more than half an hour at the start of the private meeting.

"The Senate Democrats have had three weeks to debate this bill and were offered repeated opportunities to come home, which they refused," Walker said in a statement. "In order to move the state forward, 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."

Just before the Senate vote, a committee stripped some financial elements from the bill, which they said allowed them to pass it with the presence of a simple majority. The most controversial parts of the bill remain intact.

That committee, formed just two hours earlier, quickly approved the bill as the lone Democrat at the meeting screamed that Republicans were violating the state's open meetings law - a claim Republicans disputed.

"This is a violation of law!" bellowed Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha).

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) ignored him and ordered the roll to be taken.

Minutes later, the Senate took up the bill and passed it without debate.

"Shame on you!" protesters cried from the viewing gallery.

Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) decried the move as "political thuggery." He and other Democrats warned it could end the political careers of some Republican senators who are under the threat of recalls.

"I think it's akin to political hara-kiri," said Jauch."I think it's political suicide."

Republicans, who quickly left the Capitol after the vote, said in statements they had to pass the bill after Democrats had blocked it for three weeks.

"The people of Wisconsin elected us to do a job," Fitzgerald said. "They elected us to stand up to the broken status quo, stop the constant expansion of government, balance the budget, create jobs and improve the economy. The longer the Democrats keep up this childish stunt, the longer the majority can't act on our agenda."

Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) said that GOP lawmakers were seeking to avoid even more painful options, referring to layoff warnings sent out by Walker to unions on Friday.

"Something needs to be done to balance the budget in the current year and avoid large-scale layoffs of public employees," Lazich said.

Schultz - the only one to vote against the bill - said in a statement collective bargaining should be kept intact because it has preserved labor peace for decades. He said the two sides should have been able to work out a deal.

Republicans said they were able to push through the bill by removing a few provisions, including a $165 million bond restructuring and the no-bid sale of 37 state power plants. But the bill still includes several monetary changes, including charging public workers more for health care and pensions, which will save the state $330 million through mid-2013.

Republicans removed appropriations from the bill to get around the requirement that 20 senators vote on the measure. Fitzgerald said the determination that fewer than 20 senators had to be present was deemed acceptable by three widely respected nonpartisan agencies - the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the Legislative Council and the Legislative Reference Bureau.

The bill will also help close a $137 million gap in the fiscal year that ends June 30, but not all of it. The rest of the shortfall would have to be addressed with separate legislation later.
Union leaders have repeatedly said they could accept concessions on benefits, but not the termination of most collective bargaining.

Most school, state and local employees would have to pay half the cost of their pensions - 5.8% of pay for typical state employees - and at least 12% of the cost of their health care premiums. Wages could not be raised by more than inflation each year, unless a referendum was passed.

Walker has said the benefits changes are essential to his plan to solve his budget for the next two years, which includes deep cuts to schools and local government to erase a $3.5 billion deficit. He says schools, municipalities and counties can absorb those cuts because of the cuts to benefits.

Walker has seen a steep drop in his poll numbers between his Nov. 2 election and the controversy over his budget-repair bill. He was steadfast in saying he would not negotiate over the bill for weeks, but starting last week dispatched aides to meet with Senate Democrats who have spent the past three weeks in Illinois.

Demonstrations have rocked the Capitol for weeks, but had quieted somewhat in recent days. That changed as word of the conference committee meeting spread and thousands of people flocked to the Capitol. They refused to leave well after the building officially closed.

Outside the Senate chambers, protesters chanted "Shame!" "This is not democracy!" and "You lied to Wisconsin!"

Fines issued
Earlier in the day, Republicans fined Democrats $100 each for missing the Senate session.

Fines can be levied under a resolution adopted last week that applies to those who miss two consecutive sessions without an excused absence.

(Journal Sentinel)



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