Madison — Debate grinds on in the state Assembly early Wednesday morning on Gov. Scott Walker's plan to fix the state budget and end most of the union bargaining rights held by public workers for decades.
The Assembly first convened at 11:45 Tuesday morning to take up the GOP governor's proposal and for the hours that followed Democrats kept up a series of debates and amendments that amounted to a kind of filibuster. The bill would repeal most of the bargaining rights for state and local workers that date back almost four decades, give the Walker administration broad powers to reshape health programs covering 1 million low-income Wisconsin residents, and fill a $137 million hole in the two-year state budget ending June 30.
If the bill passes the Assembly as expected, it will go to the state Senate, where one GOP senator has said he wants to amend Walker's plan and where Democrats have blocked a vote on the proposal by holing up in Illinois.
In Indiana, where Democratic House legislators fled to Illinois like Wisconsin's Democratic senators, Democrats seem to have won an important victory.
The right-to-work bill that would make it impossible for unions to collect dues from workers not in the union who are nonetheless represented through collective bargaining has died, failing to get over a procedural bar.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has said since December that he opposed the timing of the right-to-work legislation that was introduced because Republican candidates didn't campaign on it before the November elections.
By 9 p.m. Tuesday, the measure that triggered Indiana's stalemate, House Bill 1468, was dead. It, and 23 other bills caught in the crossfire, had not cleared a procedural hurdle in time. If Democrats don't return by Thursday, 25 other bills — including the school voucher bill that Democrats are now targeting — could be in jeopardy. And Daniels won't take that lightly; the voucher bill is one of the education reforms he has made a top priority.
Republicans could try to revive the right-to-work and other bills by inserting the proposals into other bills later in the session.
That, though, would risk plunging the legislature back into the same stalemate.
In Ohio, there appeared to be some conciliation between at least one important Republican lawmaker and a public employee union, on the issue of binding arbitration which some Republicans want to ditch and the public employees unions don't.
A union has shown a willingness to go beyond the "kill the bill" chants heard repeatedly from the estimated 5,200 protesters who swarmed the Statehouse yesterday to fight an overhaul of Ohio's collective-bargaining law.
"They are remaining pragmatic and so are we," Sen. Kevin Bacon, R-Minerva Park, said yesterday after a meeting with the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio. "We have some things that maybe we can come together on."
Jay McDonald, president of the union, said his organization can agree with parts of the bill, such as more transparency in the bargaining process. But he said eliminating binding arbitration - a provision Bacon says is key to the bill - goes way too far, giving police and firefighters no power to negotiate.
"There might be other ways to achieve the same result," McDonald said. "There has to be finality that my members have an equitable stake in."
Meanwhile, the Toledo Blade reports that Ted Strickland, the former Ohio governor, is threatening a lawsuit if the controversial legislation in question, SB 5, becomes law:
COLUMBUS — As thousands protested inside and outside the Statehouse Tuesday, the man who once led Ohio pledged that a bill that would strip state employees of collective-bargaining rights will be challenged if it becomes law.
"If this were to pass, we will not be finished," vowed former Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat. "We will go to the ballot. We will go to the people. We will not see fundamental rights stripped away from working Ohioans without an ongoing battle."
Also, Morning Edition had reports Wednesday out of Ohio, Tennessee and Colorado, all places where Republican governors and lawmakers are trying to wring concessions from unions.