Wisconsin Union Bill Clears Assembly Shifting Focus To AWOL Democrats
Fourteen Wisconsin state senators who have fled to Illinois for more than a week are now the only thing standing in the way of Governor Scott Walker's plan to improve the state's budget situation by significantly diminishing the bargaining power of the its public employee unions.
Despite calls of "Kill the bill!" from thousands of protestors packing the halls of the Wisconsin State Capitol, the State Assembly voted early Friday morning to pass a budget repair bill that includes a provision preventing members of public sector unions from collectively bargaining anything more than their salaries.
The vote brought an end to 61 hours of debate in the Assembly--"the longest in living memory," according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The debate included impassioned testimony by the chamber's Democrats. who shoted "Shame! Shame! Shame!" as the bill's passage was declared. Unions have conceded by offering to pay more into their pension and health care accounts.
But the legislation wiping away most of their bargaining rights has sparked protests of solidarity from Las Vegas to Trenton, been characterized as an "attack on unions" by President Barack Obama and spurned calls for similar action to be taken in other Republican-controlled states facing huge budget deficits such as Ohio and Indiana.
The State Senate can't vote on the legislation until they have a quorum. And they can't achieve a quorum without at least one of those 14 Democrats hiding in Illinois. Suspecting the senators might be returning to Wisconsin during the nighttime, state troopers visited their homes on Thursday to force them back to work. The effort resulted in no spottings.
The Senate has only been able to vote on measures that involve the state's budget.
If the budget bill doesn't reach Walker's desk by Tuesday, Wisconsin would miss a deadline to refinance its debt. Gov. Walker has said missing the deadline would force him to issue layoff notices to state workers next week.
In numerous television appearances, the Senate Democrats have said they would return after Walker agrees to negotiate with them to pull out the collective bargaining regulation.