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February 28, 2015

Right-to-work takes center stage this week in Wisconsin

Protesting Act 10 in February, 2011. (FILE PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Protesting Act 10 in February, 2011. (FILE PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

As Wisconsin lawmakers begin the process of debating right-to-work legislation this week at the Capitol, questions remains about what kind of pushback from the public they may experience.

The legislation, which would prohibit employers from requiring union membership as a condition of employment, is set for a marathon run in the Senate this week. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday and debate in the chamber is tentatively set to start on Wednesday. If approved, the Assembly would then take up the bill next week.

While the proposal is expected to draw protesters to the Capitol, there are doubts about whether the crowds will reach the tens of thousands seen four years ago when Republicans pushed through legislation that stripped most public employee unions of their collective bargaining powers. Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald said last week that “it’s pretty difficult to say…what this bill will bring, as far as participation from the public.”

Despite those unknowns, Fitzgerald said the Legislature has been in contact with Capitol Police to prepare for the potential of large demonstrations. Even if the crowds do show up though, Fitzgerald said they plan to move ahead with taking up the bill as planned.

Union groups spent most of the weekend organizing efforts to fight against the legislation. The state AFL-CIO announced plans for rallies outside the Capitol at noon on Tuesday and Wednesday, while a public hearing that starts Tuesday is also expected to attract a long list of individuals to testify on the proposal.

Fitzgerald says time is now for right-to-work (VIDEO)

Majority Republicans plan to move quickly next week on a bill that would make Wisconsin a right-to-work state.

Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Friday at a Capitol news conference that he has the votes needed to pass the bill, which would bar businesses from making union membership a condition of employment. Fitzgerald said “all 17 senators that support the bill right now are convinced that this could be a game changer for Wisconsin.”

The announcement on Friday came as a surprise to many, with Democrats questioning the need to rush the controversial bill through the process. A hearing will likely be held this coming Tuesday, with a vote in the Senate held as early as the next day. The Assembly would then take up the bill the following week.

Fitzgerald argued Friday that there’s no reason to delay since he has the 17 votes needed to pass the bill. He said “my experience as leaders is, when you have the votes, you go to the floor…you don’t wait around.”

Governor Scott Walker’s office has indicated he will sign the bill, if it makes it to his desk.

Walker signals support for right-to-work bill

Governor Scott Walker delivers his fifth state of the state address. 1/13/15 (FILE PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Governor Scott Walker delivers his fifth state of the state address. (FILE PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

After saying for months that taking up right-to-work legislation would be a distraction from other priorities facing Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker’s staff indicated this morning that he will sign legislation if it makes it to his desk.

Republican leaders announced Friday morning that they plan to call an extraordinary session next week to take up a right-to-work proposal, which would keep employers from requiring union membership as a condition of employment. Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said he has the votes needed to pass the measure, and hopes to have it through his chamber by Thursday of next week.

Since the issue first came up after the November elections, the governor has maintained that the bill is not a priority for him. Walker spokesman Laurel Patrick reiterated Friday in a statement that “Governor Walker continues to focus on budget priorities to grow our economy and to streamline state government. With that said, Governor Walker co-sponsored right-to-work legislation as a lawmaker and supports the policy. If this bill makes it to his desk, Governor Walker will sign it into law.”

Republicans were expected to formally introduce the legislation Friday afternoon.

Wisconsin Republican leaders plan to push for vote on right-to-work

Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (PHOTO: WRN)

Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (PHOTO: WRN)

In a surprise move, Republican leaders in the Wisconsin Legislature have announced they plan to introduce right-to-work legislation and pass it through the state Senate by as early as the end of next week.

State Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) told Milwaukee radio host Charlie Sykes this morning that he and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) plan to introduce the bill today and call an extraordinary session to take it up next week. Fitzgerald said the measure could receive a public hearing early next week at the Capitol and vote in the Senate by Thursday morning.

The specific language of the bill is not yet available, although right-to-work legislation typically bars employers from making union membership a condition of employment.

Lawmakers floated the idea of pursuing right-to-work legislation after strengthening their majorities in both chambers last November. The measure has faced pushback, and lawmakers had indicated they might wait to take it up until after the state budget was complete. Even Governor Scott Walker has argued that tackling the controversial legislation would be a “distraction” from other important issues facing the state right now. Fitzgerald told Sykes that he wants to move now though, since he has the 17 votes needed to pass the bill and the Assembly is also on board.

As for whether Governor Walker’s position has changed, Fitzgerald said he has “been supportive” of the idea. The Juneau Republican stopped short though of saying that Walker has promised to sign the bill if it passes. A spokeswoman for Governor Walker did indicate late Friday morning that he would sign the legislation, if it makes it to his desk.

In a statement, Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) called it “absurd” that Republicans would move to fast-track legislation that interferes with private business contracts. She also noted ““Objective polling clearly shows that the vast majority of Wisconsin residents view this issue as a distraction. Rather than creating economic uncertainty for Wisconsin families and small businesses, Republicans should focus their attention on boosting family wages, closing the skills gap and fixing the $2.2 billion budget crisis they created.”

Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said in a statement that “there is broad agreement among workers, businesses and everyday citizens that Right to Work is wrong for Wisconsin. Yet the governor and Republican lawmakers have proven they will do anything to change the subject from their mismanagement of Wisconsin’s economy, including driving down wages for our workers and further dividing our state.”

The measure could potentially reignite the massive union battles the state saw four years ago, with tens of thousands of protesters marching on the state Capitol after Walker and Republicans introduced a bill stripping most public employees of their collective bargaining powers. Fitzgerald said you can’t base your vote on the possibility that things might “get ugly,” and Senators know “this is the right thing to do.”

Report details spending by Wisconsin lobbyists

Wisconsin State Capitol (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Wisconsin State Capitol (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

A new report shows lobbying groups spent $57.5 million dollars during the last two year session of the Legislature trying to influence lawmakers’ decisions.

The report from the state Government Accountability Board shows 743 groups and 685 licensed individual lobbyists registered over 378,000 hours working to influence government action. The most lobbied issues included bills dealing with operating overweight farm machinery on state roads without a permit, approving high capacity wells, changes to worker compensation laws, and nonmetallic mining.

The most active lobbying organization was Wisconsin Property Taxpayers Inc., which spent $1.4 million. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the Wisconsin Hospital Association, Wisconsin Counties Association, and Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation rounded out the top five.

The GAB report also shows overall spending by lobbyists was down from the 2011-13 legislation session, falling 9.1 percent from $62.8 million. The number of hours spent lobbying lawmakers also fell by 12.8 percent.