In a surprise move, Wisconsin Senate Republicans passed a long-stalled bill stripping public-employee union members of most collective-bargaining rights without Democratic senators present on Wednesday.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Senate sent GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill to a conference committee that stripped all of the spending measures out of the bill and sent it back to the Senate, which lawmakers said allowed them to pass it with a simple majority present. Senate rules require a quorum of 20 senators to vote on spending bills, and all 14 Senate Democrats fled the state on February 17 to prevent that.
The vote was 18-1, with GOP state Sen. Dale Schultz the only member to vote against it. There was no debate on the bill.
Protesters were chanting “shame” and “this is not democracy,” according to the Journal Sentinel.
“The Senate Democrats have had three weeks to debate this bill and were offered repeated opportunities to come home, which they refused,” Walker said in a statement. “I applaud the Legislature's action today to stand up to the status quo.” The governor also penned an op-ed for Thursday’s Wall Street Journal defending his stance against compromise, acknowledging it as a “bold political move.”
Appearing on Fox and Friends on Thursday morning, Republican Sen. Randy Hopper -- one of the 18 senators to vote “yes” -- said that defining the revamped legislation as devoid of fiscal components is inaccurate.
“Everything is fiscal,” Hopper said. “What we did is we can’t allocate those funds; we can’t appropriate the funds that we save. So even though those things are very fiscal, we can’t spend the money until one of the Democrats decides to come back and do their job. What we can start doing is capturing the savings.”
According to the Journal Sentinel, Democratic Sen. Chris Larson attempted to drive back to the capitol in Madison from Illinois, but he was too late, and would not have been able to stop the bill's passage.
“This is on the Republicans' heads right now. If they decide to kill the middle class, it's on them," Larson said. "This is a travesty, is what it is. I can't sit by and let them kill the middle class.”
The adjusted bill goes to the Republican-controlled State Assembly this morning for a vote, but political analysts across Wisconsin call its passage a done deal.