Wis. Senate GOP Finds Way To Bypass Democrats

Wisconsin Senate Republicans have found a way to vote on collective bargaining legislation — even though 14 Democrats are hiding out in neighboring Illinois. The state senate has now passed a measure that would cut most collective bargaining rights of public workers. Robert Siegel talks with Wisconsin Public Radio's Shawn Johnson.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Wisconsin, the political stalemate over collective bargaining rights may be over. And the 14 Democratic state senators who fled the state may not have to stay in hiding anymore.

Tonight, Republican lawmakers executed a procedural maneuver that advances their legislation to cartel the collective bargaining rights of many public employees.

I'm joined now by Shawn Johnson of Wisconsin Public Radio. He's at the state capitol.

And, Shawn, what happened tonight?

SHAWN JOHNSON: Well, on a day when it seems like nothing was going to happen with this, a lot happened very quickly. Around 4 o'clock Central Time, a panel of legislative leaders, Republican leaders, announced they were going to form a committee to talk about this bill. A couple of hours later, that committee met and change the bill, basically stripped out anything that had to do with the budget. And what they left was a bill that's still stripped away collective bargaining rights of most public employee unions.

That committee passed the bill, pass it on to the full Senate, which voted on it minutes later without any debate, and passed it 18-1, and so - without any Democrats present. And so now that bill is on its way to becoming law after clearing what was the biggest hurdle for its passage.

SIEGEL: And how are people there reacting to this?

JOHNSON: Well, the governor, who's - who wanted this bill passed in the first place, praised the legislature. He issued a statement saying: The Senate Democrats have had three weeks to debate this bill and were offered repeated opportunities to come home, which they refused. The governor said in order to move the state forward, he applauded the legislature's actions today to stand up to the status quo.

Democrats reacted much differently. Assembly Democratic minority leader Peter Barca was the only Democrat in the committee when this thing was considered, called it a naked abuse of power.

State Senator PETER BARCA (Democrat, Wisconsin): They are so eager to take away the rights that people of this state have enjoyed for 50 years to be able to negotiate that they trample on democracy.

JOHNSON: And outside the Senate Chamber, protesters begin shouting their disapproval.

Unidentified Group: (Unintelligible).

JOHNSON: And just like that, what had been a relatively quiet (unintelligible) at the capitol changed, and you now have hundreds of protesters in and around the building again.

SIEGEL: Shawn, what happens next in Wisconsin?

JOHNSON: Well, there's some question over what happens next with the 14 missing Democratic state senators and whether they'll return to Wisconsin now. But judging by the Senate's action here tonight, and their decision to pass this bill without them, that question may be relevant at this point.

What we do know is that the State Assembly, where Republicans hold a strong majority, is expected to take up this identical bill tomorrow. And given their numbers there and given the fact that they passed a version of this earlier, it looks like that will be the final passage of this bill, which will go on to the governor's desk, and these changes to collective bargaining will become law.

SIEGEL: OK. Shawn Johnson of Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison, Wisconsin, thanks.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

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