Protests erupted at the Capitol Wednesday night, after action by the state Senate to advance a modified version of Governor Scott Walker’s budget repair bill, which succeeds in stripping most collective bargaining rights from public employees in Wisconsin. The drama began to unfold in a 6:00 conference committee meeting, a meeting Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said had not been properly noticed. “I have a question about the open meetings rule being violated,” said the Kenosha Democrat. “You have not given two hours notice.” As Barca attempted to make his point to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a member of the public shouted “take a moment, step back from the abyss.” The office of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald released a statement from the Senate Chief Clerk that the meeting had been properly noticed.
Barca also questioned whether the bill accomplished the stated intent of Governor Walker. “The gig is up. The fraud on the people of Wisconsin now is very clear. They now are going to pass a bill to take away peoples rights, and there is no bonding in this bill. The Governor has said from day one, bonding is what is needed in order to avoid layoffs. So now they have primarily a non fiscal document that does not even accomplish the goals of a budget repair bill.” Republicans on removed all the fiscal, or spending provisions, out of Walker’s proposal, and that meant they did not need a quorum of 20 Senators in order to pass it.
The Senate Parlor, where the meeting place, erupted as over Barca’s protests the committee moved the bill, stripped of all fiscal provisions, to the Senate floor. By removing the fiscal, or spending provisions out of Walker’s proposal, the GOP did not need a quorum of 20 Senators in order to pass it. Once on the Senate floor, Senator Dale Schultz of Richland Center was the lone vote against the measure. “In the days and weeks and ahead, there will be an opportunity for us to talk, and for me to answer questions,” said Schultz. “It’s been a tough night, I’d like to have my vote out there do the speaking for me.”
In a letter explaining the action, Fitzgerald referred to “nearly three weeks of childish stunts and delay tactics from the Democrats.” He also accused Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller of stalling indefinitely. “Enough is enough.” Miller, reached by phone in Illinois, promised that the 14 Democrats will be “back soon” after three weeks away from the Capitol in an attempt to forestall action on the bill. “We need to join the fight now that the Republicans have made it clear that their whole intent all along was to crush the rights of workers in our state.” Miller’s assistant minority leader, Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay, called the action by the Republicans an outrage. “Their actions are reckless, repulsive, unnecessary and mean spirited” said Hansen. Miller and Hansen both indicated that the Democrats would not be returning on Thursday.
Another Democrat, Senator Tim Cullen of Janesville, hoped both sides will take a breather. “I think this escalation doesn’t have a good ending, and I think it’s time to pause for a couple of days,” said Cullen. “If I were in charge of all this, I wouldn’t have anybody meet at all until Monday, to sort it all out, give legislators of both parties and chance to call each other and make sure the personal relationships are still intact. Let’s start there.” The Assembly, which passed the original version of the budget repair bill nearly two weeks ago, is scheduled to take up the revised bill on Thursday.