Wisconsin Republicans Push Through Anti-Union Measure in Surprise Move
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After a nearly month-long standoff, Wisconsin Senate Republicans pushed through a measure late Wednesday (March 9th) that strips most public unions of their collective bargaining rights, using a surprise maneuver that caught the opposition off guard. The bill championed by Republican Governor Scott Walker had been blocked for weeks after all 14 Senate Democrats fled the state to deny the quorum necessary to take up any measures that spend money. Although the public unions had agreed to the additional contributions to pensions and health care that Walker wanted, the Democrats fled to protect them from having their collective bargaining rights taken away. Tens of thousands of protesters have also been demonstrating in the Capitol during the standoff in support of the public unions.
In order to get around the quorum requirement, a hastily-assembled special committee of lawmakers from the Senate and Assembly voted yesterday to take all the spending measures out of the legislation, leaving the collective bargaining measure to be voted. Despite repeated objections from Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, the only Democrat on the panel, who said the state's open meetings law was being violated because 24 hours notice wasn't given, the measure was approved, and the Senate Republicans then passed it 18-1, with only one GOP senator voting no.
Within hours after the Senate passed the bill, 7,000 people jammed into the Capitol in protest. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Mike Miller, speaking from Illinois, where the AWOL senators have been holed up, said, "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. Tonight, 18 Senate Republicans conspired to take government away from the people." But Governor Walker said that Democrats had three weeks to debate the bill and were offered repeated opportunities to come back, but refused. He said, "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."