Less than two weeks after it was introduced, the state Assembly this morning will start what’s expected to be a lengthy final debate on a controversial right-to-work bill.
Democrats and majority Republicans in the chamber have agreed to a 24 hour limit for debate on the bill, which would prohibit contracts that make union membership or paying dues a condition of employment. During a press conference at the Capitol Wednesday afternoon, Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) indicated his members have drafted “50 to 75 amendments,” although it remains unclear how many of those will actually be brought to the floor. Barca said he’s expecting a “vibrant debate” on the bill, while expressing optimism that changes are still possible.
Assembly Democrats already tried to push through four amendments during an executive session called late Wednesday afternoon at the Capitol. The proposed amendments included delaying implementation of the bill for 90 days, removing criminal penalties for violating the law, restoring “labor peace” language, and creating a three-year sunset provision that would repeal the law if wages decline. None were adopted by the committee.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) called the amendments nothing more than an attempt to “delay the inevitable.” If amended, the legislation would have to go back to the Senate, which narrowly approved it last week. Vos told reporters Wednesday that he did not think the Senate would have been able to pass it, so “now that they have, they’ve shown the people of Wisconsin want this provision. Let’s get it done.”
Vos said he’s confident the bill will pass without issue in the Assembly, although some Republicans may vote against it. Defeating the legislation would require at least 14 GOP lawmakers to side with Democrats, which is unlikely to happen. Vos said “I am confident that we have way more than 50 votes.”
Lawmakers are expected on the Assembly floor at nine this morning. Debate on the bill is expected to stretch into Friday morning. If approved, the bill will go to Governor Walker, who has indicated he plans to sign it into law quickly.