Wisconsin Senate Republicans pass controversial union reforms without Democrats present

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March 9, 2011


MADISON, Wisconsin: In a surprise maneuver, Senate Republicans on Wednesday were able to pass controversial reforms to the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers. In a process that took just over two hours, Republicans passed the bill 18-1, with Sen. Dale Schultz casting the only no vote.[1]

Republicans skirted the need for a quorum by removing the sections of the bill that had to do with appropriating funds. With these removed, the bill only needed to be passed by a simple majority. At 4 p.m. a conference committee on the budget-repair bill was convened. Two hours later the committee met and advanced the new measure without debate. Immediately following that, the Senate met and passed the new version, also without debate. It has been sent to the Assembly, who is expected to take it up at 11 a.m on Thursday.[2]

The only Democrat present at the meeting, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D), attempted to stop the proceedings, stating that the committee was in violation of the state's open meeting law. According to the law, most public bodies are required to give 24 hours notice before a meeting. The two hours notice that the committee provided led Barca to declare, "Mr. Chairman, this is a violation of law! This is not just a rule — this is the law."[1] Ignoring Barca, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) ordered the vote taken as shouts of protest rang from the galleries. Schultz, the lone dissenting vote, said he has spent weeks working for a compromise and had to vote his conscience.[1]

Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (D) responded to the action, saying, "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."[3] Senator Jim Holperin (D) said that Democrats no longer had reason to stay away from Madison and would return after the Assembly acts on the bill.

Gov. Scott Walker (R) applauded the action, stating, "The Senate Democrats have had three weeks to debate this bill and were offered repeated opportunities to come home, which they refused. 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."[2]

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