In a quick turn of events, Republican state senators in Wisconsin have successfully pushed through a provision stripping public employees of their collective bargaining rights by separating it from Gov. Scott Walker's controversial budget bill.
The stand-alone measure passed Wednesday evening by a vote of 18-1. No Democrats were present.
In effect, the vote renders Democrats attempts to withhold the provision from the budget bill moot.
With the bill's most controversial provision removed, Republicans hope Democrats will now return to continue the debate of the rest of the budget proposal.
As you'll recall, all 14 state Senate Democrats fled the state in an attempt to prevent passage of the budget bill. With the collective bargaining provision included in the budget bill, the GOP needed at least one Democrat to be present for a quorum to allow a vote. But with the provision voted on as a stand-alone measure, the GOP successfully passed the policy with no Democrats present.
The collective bargaining provision was put into its own bill hastily created during a joint conference committee Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald shepherded the bill through the process as Democratic Rep. Peter Barca objected, claiming the committee's meeting was in violation of the state's open meetings law.
At press time, Senate Democrats were reportedly meeting to decide how best to respond to the GOP's decisive action.
The Senate-passed stand-alone provision now heads to the state Assembly for approval.
As the Senate voted Wednesday evening, demonstrators gathered at the state capitol building erupted in a roar of protest. Spectators in the Senate gallery screamed "You are cowards."
Before the sudden votes, Democratic Sens. Bob Jauch said if Republicans "chose to ram this bill through in this fashion, it will be to their political peril. They're changing the rules. They will inflame a very frustrated public."
Senate Democrats have been absent from the state for three weeks. Sen. Matt Miller, leader of the Senate Democrats, quickly issued the following statement after the vote:
In thirty minutes, 18 State Senators undid fifty years of civil rights in Wisconsin. Their disrespect for the people of Wisconsin and their rights is an outrage that will never be forgotten. Tonight, 18 Senate Republicans conspired to take government away from the people. Tomorrow we will join the people of Wisconsin in taking back their government.
Senate GOP leader Fitzgerald issued his own statement:
"Enough is enough." "The people of Wisconsin elected us to do a job. They elected us to stand up to the broken status quo, stop the constant expansion of government, balance the budget, create jobs and improve the economy. The longer the Democrats keep up this childish stunt, the longer the majority can't act on our agenda. [...]
"We have confirmed with the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the Legislative Council and the Legislative Reference Bureau that every item in tonight's bill follows the letter of the law.
"The people of Wisconsin elected us to come to Madison and do a job. Just because the Senate Democrats won't do theirs, doesn't mean we won't do ours."
Gov. Scott Walker is praising Republicans for moving forward with his proposed budget provisions. Democrats were offered repeated opportunities to come home and negotiate, Walker said, but they refused.
"In order to move the state forward, I applaud the Legislature's action today to stand up to the status quo and take a step in the right direction to balance the budget and reform government," Walker said.
The AP is reporting that Democrats are planning their return to the state, but Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach tells local affiliate NBC15 that despite reports, the Senate Democrats do not plan to return to the state tonight or tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Chris Larson told MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell: “If [the GOP] wanted us back, they could have had us back. We’re getting together to see what legal action can be taken. They’ve been sloppy in their haste trying to get this done. But the story is where the Republicans are…[not with] the people. They’ve proved themselves to be deceptive. Special interests over people. Shutting down public debate, public hearings, the phone lines, the capitol, our offices, and now this. There’s no low they won’t go to to kill workers’ rights. Untrustworthy, can’t keep their word. We asked for negotiations. They used the letter as a prop in a press conference… shows where they are, where they’re at. They’re passing things w/o the public being aware of them. I doubt if many in WI have heard what happened. A lot of people will step out to the streets to recall…“