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Wisconsin Assembly Passes Bill To Curb Unions

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Wisconsin Protest

Chicago workers protest at the state Capitol in Wisconsin. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 02/25/11 4:30 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (CBS) – Republicans in the Wisconsin State Assembly moved swiftly and passed a budget bill by Gov. Scott Walker, which would strip collective bargaining rights for most state employees.

The Republican-led Assembly passed the bill after hours of debate. Earlier this week, the Assembly voted to cut off three days of debate on the measure, even though 15 Democrats were still waiting to speak.

The vote itself Thursday night was over so fast that only 13 of 38 Democrats voted in time, CBS News reported. When the vote was over, some of the thousands of protesters gathered outside the Capitol gave derisive applause.

The bill must still pass the state Senate, which is also controlled by the GOP. But Republicans need at least one Democrat for the bill to pass, and 14 Senate democrats have left the state to stall the vote. Many are hiding out in Chicago.

Wisconsin state Sen. Jon Erpenbach is one of them. He’d prefer to go home, he told CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez. But Erpenbach, who has now stayed in six hotels in eight days, says despite Friday’s budget vote, the radical tactics of Democrats are working.

Despite Gov. Walker’s order for Democratic senators to come home, Erpenbach says he won’t do so until the governor compromises — “until he takes a serious look at the offer on the table from public employees giving him every penny he wants in exchange for not going after workers’ rights in the state of Wisconsin.”

On Thursday, Wisconsin state patrol officers were sent to the senators’ houses, in hopes of compelling them to come back and vote. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told The Associated Press that police cannot arrest the absent members, but he hoped the presence of a police officer at their door would be enough to motivate them to come back.

Walker’s plan calls for all collective bargaining rights to be removed for state employees effective July 1, except with regard to wages. But any salary increase could not be higher than the consumer price index unless voters approve otherwise.

Walker says the move is needed to solve a nine-figure budget deficit. But critics claim the budget deficit concerns are overstated, and the real motivation is to bust state employee unions.

U.S. Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) is one such critic.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s John Cody reports

“This was not a question about budget, or a question about cutting back in benefits. It was a question about destroying a union,” Durbin said, “and I think that we stand with our friends in labor, that the rights to collectively bargain have been fought for and won across America, and they are worth fighting for in Wisconsin and Illinois.”

Durbin pictures the Wisconsin legislation as an effort to trample hard-won bargaining rights, and says he stands behind the Senate Democrats.

Walker took heat from opponents earlier this week, when Ian Murphy,, a blogger for the left-leaning Web site “Buffalo Beast,” posed as Koch Industries billionaire and Walker backer David Koch and called Walker up.

In a 20-minute conversation, Walker openly discussed plans to issue layoff notices if his budget bill is not passed soon, and talked about ideas to punish the absent Senate Democrats, whom Murphy-as-Koch referred to as “Democrat bastards.”

Also, CBS News’ Dean Reynolds reports, an Indiana deputy attorney general got in trouble Wednesday for suggesting in a tweet that “live ammunition” should be used against protesters in Madison.

The deputy attorney general, Jeffrey Cox, said he was being satirical, but he was fired over the incident.

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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