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Republican Senators in Wisconsin Pass Legislation to Curb Collective Bargaining Rights

Source: WSJ - Doug Belkin

Posted on 10 Mar 2011

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Last night Republican senators in Wisconsin passed legislation stripping public employees' unions of collective bargaining rights.

The vote on Gov. Scott Walker's budget bill had been held up since Feb. 17, when all 14 Democratic senators left the state. Without the Democrats, the senate lacked a quorum to vote on fiscal legislation.

Republican senators convened Wednesday night and removed some fiscal items from the bill so that they could vote on the remaining issues—including curbs on the collective-bargaining rights of public-sector unions. The amended legislation passed with an 18-1 vote.

The new bill is expected to go before the Republican controlled Assembly, where it is likely to pass. Then it will go to Mr. Walker to be signed.

On Wednesday, Mr. Walker said he applauded the legislature's action "to stand up to the status quo and take a step in the right direction to balance the budget and reform government."

Democratic House Minority Leader Peter Barca called passage of the legislation "outrageous" and "a continuation of a pattern of naked abuse of power."

Mr. Barca said he thought the bill wouldn't stand because it was passed in violation of the state's open-meeting law.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican, said in a statement, "Tonight, the Senate will be passing the items in the budget-repair bill that we can, with the 19 members who actually do show up and do their jobs.

"Those items include the long-overdue reform of collective bargaining needed to help local governments absorb these budget cuts," as well as increasing the amount of money public employees will have to pay for their pensions and health-care premiums.

Earlier in the day, Republicans in Wisconsin's state Senate began fining each of their absent Democratic colleagues $100 a day Wednesday, as neither side offered much hope of resuming talks to resolve the standoff

"I've just about exhausted everything available to me to try and compel them to come back," Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said on Wednesday.

Democratic Sen. Bob Jauch, who had been involved in the talks, said he believed campaigns to force a recall election for eight Republican senators were causing GOP senators to waver in their support of the bill, a charge Republicans denied.

Meanwhile, the National Republican Trust, a political-action committee, has created a one-minute ad that will begin airing across Wisconsin Thursday, said Scott Wheeler, executive director of the organization. The spot shows union protesters gathered in Madison, the capital, as a narrator says: "Our economy is suffering. Most of us are doing with less, and some are doing without. So why are government employees' unions demanding more?"Mr.

Wheeler said the trust had bought 180 spots and that the ad would run on both network television and cable.

Two lawsuits filed by citizens asking courts to compel the return of Senate Democrats are pending. The suits seek a writ of mandamus, which is typically used to compel government officials to perform specific tasks.One suit was filed in Oconto County Circuit Court on March 1 against Democratic

Sen. Jim Holperin. Another, filed March 3 in Rock County Circuit Court, seeks the return of Sen. Tim Cullen.
James Troupis, a Middleton, Wis., attorney who filed suit against Mr. Holperin and was hired as counsel to Sen. Fitzgerald March 2, said antitax group Wisconsin Club for Growth is helping to pay for the suit.

Steven Barkan, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison, said it was hard to predict how the court would rule, given the unusual context of trying to force the return of a missing legislator. "It's a clever use of the technique. I don't know how effective it will be," he said.

Mr. Holperin said the lawsuit was a "calculated effort" by conservatives. Mr. Cullen couldn't be reached for comment.

Mr. Walker's budget bill seeks to address a projected $3.6 billion shortfall by asking public employees to pick up more than $300 million in their pension and health-care costs. The unions have agreed to the cuts but have refused to accept restrictions on their ability to bargain collectively. That sticking point has kept 14 Democrat senators from returning to Ma