In Wisconsin, Protests Get Louder

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In the Wisconsin state Capitol, where round-the-clock protests against legislation that would take away nearly all collective bargaining rights from most public employees in the state not only continue, but are getting louder. The so-called budget repair bill that has drawn the nation's attention to Madison is now being debated in the Wisconsin Legislature's lower chamber — the state assembly.

DAVID SCHAPER: I'm David Schaper in the Wisconsin state capitol, where round-the-clock protests against legislation that would take away nearly all collective bargaining rights from most public employees in the state not only continue but are getting louder. The so-called budget repair bill that has drawn the nation's attention to Madison is now being debated in the Wisconsin Legislature's lower chamber, the state assembly.

Mr. PATRICK FULLER (Wisconsin State Assembly Clerk): August.

State Representative TYLER AUGUST (Republican, Wisconsin): Here.

Mr. FULLER: Ballweg.

State Representative JOAN BALLWEG (Republican, Wisconsin): Here.

Mr. FULLER: Barca.

State Representative PETER BARCA (Democrat, Wisconsin): Here.

SCHAPER: As the assembly clerk called the roll and the debate over the controversial budget repair bill began, Democrats stood up time and again to ask procedural questions to seek to clarify the rules and to offer amendments in their attempts to try to derail the legislation.

Here's Madison Democrat Mark Pocan.

State Representative MARK POCAN (Democrat, Wisconsin): This is a Trojan horse of bad conservative ideas put into a bill.

SCHAPER: Republicans last week tried to force the bill through without Democrats even being in the chamber. Republicans stand firm in their contention that curbing public employees' collective bargaining rights is crucial for balancing both state and local governments' budgets.

And as loud and as huge as these protests have been, GOP Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald says Wisconsinites want them to pass this bill.

State Representative JEFF FITZGERALD (Republican, Wisconsin; Assembly Speaker): The best thing, I think, that happened for us over the weekend is us getting a chance to go back home to our districts and listen to our constituents. And I'll tell you, it was overwhelming, the people and the support that are on our side.

SCHAPER: Debate in the assembly could possibly drag on for days, while Wisconsin Senate Democrats remain AWOL from the capitol and out of state to prevent their chamber from even taking up the bill. Ill will in the assembly is still thick here with one member remarking that lawmakers are just one folding chair away from being the World Wrestling Federation.

David Schaper, NPR News, Madison.

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