MADISON, Wis. (CBS) — The proposal to strip collective bargaining rights from state employees may have passed the Wisconsin senate, but the battle is far from over.
The 14 Democratic state senators had been hiding out in Illinois to forestall the budget proposal by Gov. Scott Walker, but the Republican-controlled Senate found a way to pass it without them using a procedural move.
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The Senate requires a quorum to take up any measures on spending money. So the Republicans took all the spending measures out of the legislation, and the Senate passed the bill a short time later.
The bill passed 18-1 without discussion or debate.
The measure drew immediate reaction in Senate chambers.
“You are cowards!” spectators in the Senate gallery screamed as lawmakers voted. Within hours, a crowd of a few hundred protesters inside the Capitol had grown to several thousand, more than had been in the building at any point during weeks of protests.
“The whole world is watching!” they shouted as they pressed up against the heavily guarded entrance to the Senate chamber.
Meanwhile, Walker praised the move.
“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 in the statement.
The state Assembly is expected to vote on the measure Thursday.
The Democratic senators, who remain in Illinois, say their Republican colleagues’ actions are illegal.
“They took about six decades worth of strong bi-partisan pro workers rights in the state of Wisconsin and squashed them within two hours,” said Wisconsin state Sen. John Erpenbach (D-Middleton.)
Erpenbach the Democratic senators will stay in Illinois. He says the GOP’s actions violate the Open Meetings Act, and he believes the situation will end up in court.
The measure approved Wednesday forbids most government workers from collectively bargaining for wage increases beyond the rate of inflation. It also requires public workers to pay more toward their pensions and double their health insurance contribution, a combination equivalent to an 8 percent pay cut for the average worker.
Police and firefighters are exempt.
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