MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin state troopers were dispatched Thursday to try to find at least one of the 14 Senate Democrats who have been on the run for eight days to delay a vote on Republican Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to strip collective bargaining rights from nearly all public employees.
Meanwhile, the state Assembly appeared close to voting on the union rights bill after two days of filibustering the measure with a blizzard of amendments. Democrats reached an early morning deal after 43 hours of debate to limit the number of remaining amendments and time spent on each.
Troopers went to multiple homes Thursday morning hoping to find at least one of the 14 Democrats, some of whom were rumored to have made short trips home to pick up clothes and other necessities before again fleeing the state. But they came up empty handed, Senate Sergeant at Arms Ted Blazel said.
"Every night we hear about some that are coming back home," said Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who hoped sending the move to send the troopers would pressure Democrats to return.
But Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who was in the Chicago area, said all 14 senators remained outside of Wisconsin and would not return until Walker was willing to compromise.
"It's not so much the Democrats holding things up, it's really a matter of Gov. Walker holding things up," Erpenbach said.
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie issued a statement praising the Assembly for nearing a vote and renewing his call for Senate Democrats to come back.
Thousands of people have protested the bill for nine straight days, with hundreds spending the night on the Capitol's hard marble floor as the debate was broadcast on monitors in the rotunda. Many still were sleeping when the deal to only debate 38 more amendments, for no more than 10 minutes each, was announced shortly after 6 a.m. The timing of the agreement means the vote could come as soon as noon Thursday.
"We will strongly make our points, but understand you are limiting the voice of the public as you do this," said Democratic state Rep. Mark Pocan of Madison. "You can't dictate democracy. You are limiting the people's voice with this agreement this morning."
Democrats, who are in the minority, don't have the votes to stop the bill once the vote occurs.
Passage of the bill in the Assembly would be a major victory for Republicans and Walker, but the measure still must clear the Senate. Democrats there left town last week rather than vote on the bill, which has stymied efforts there to take it up.
The battle over labor rights has been heating up across the country, as new Republican majorities tackle budget woes in several states. The GOP efforts have sparked huge protests from unions and their supporters and led Democrats in Wisconsin and Indiana to flee their states to block measures.
Republicans in Ohio offered a small concession Wednesday, saying they would support allowing unionized state workers to collectively bargain on wages - but not for benefits, sick time, vacation or other conditions. Wisconsin's proposal also would allow most public workers to collectively bargain only for wages.
In Ohio, Republican Senate President Tom Niehaus denied protests have dented the GOP's resolve, saying lawmakers decided to make the change after listening to hours of testimony. He said he still believes the bill's core purpose - reining in spending by allowing governments more flexibility in dealing with their workers - is intact.
Senate Democratic Leader Capri Cafaro called the changes "window dressing." She said the entire bill should be scrapped.
"We can't grow Ohio's economy by destroying jobs and attacking the middle class," Cafaro said. "Public employees in Ohio didn't cause our budget problems and they shouldn't be blamed for something that's not their fault."
Wisconsin Democrats have echoed Cafaro for days, but Walker has refused to waver.
Walker reiterated Wednesday that public workers must make concessions to avoid thousands of government layoffs as the state grapples with a $137 million shortfall in its current budget and a projected $3.6 billion hole in the next two-year budget.
The marathon session in the Assembly was grand political theater, with exhausted lawmakers limping around the chamber, rubbing their eyes and yawning as Wednesday night dragged on.
Around midnight, Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, accused Democrats of putting on a show for the protesters. Democrats leapt up and started shouting.
"I'm sorry if democracy is a little inconvenient and you had to stay up two nights in a row," Pocan said. "Is this inconvenient? Hell, yeah! It's inconvenient. But we're going to be heard!"
The Ohio and Wisconsin bills both would strip public workers at all levels of their right to collectively bargain benefits, sick time, vacations and other work conditions. Wisconsin's measure exempts local police, firefighters and the State Patrol and still lets workers collectively bargain their wages as long as they are below inflation. It also would require public workers to pay more toward their pensions and health insurance. Ohio's bill, until Wednesday, would have barred negotiations on wages.
Ohio's measure sits in a Senate committee. No vote has been scheduled on the plan, but thousands of protesters have gathered at the Statehouse to demonstrate, just as in Wisconsin.
In Indiana, Democrats successfully killed a Republican bill that would have prohibited union membership from being a condition of employment by leaving the state on Tuesday. They remained in Illinois in hopes of derailing other parts of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels' agenda, including restrictions on teacher collective bargaining.
And in Oklahoma, a Republican-controlled state House committee on Wednesday narrowly approved legislation to repeal collective bargaining rights for municipal workers in that state's 13 largest cities.
The Atlantic reports that at one town hall meeting in Wisconsin, one GOP state senator faced "loud opposition" to a proposed compromise.
About 50 pro-union protesters peacefully left the state Capitol late Thursday after a judge ruled they could no longer spend the night to show their opposition to Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to eliminate nearly all collective bargaining rights for public workers.
The judge also ruled the state had violated the public's free speech and assembly rights by restricting access to the building.
AP reports that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says he will issue layoff notices to 1,500 state employees Friday if his union bill doesn't pass by then:
Walker also said in an interview with The Associated Press that he is negotiating with Democrats who stymied passage of the bill by leaving the state for changes to the proposal that would get them to return. Walker said he won't compromise on the collective bargaining issue or anything that saves the state money.
"I can't take any of that off the table," he said.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that Democratic State Senators in Wisconsin have been threatened with contempt by Republicans, if they don't return by 4 p.m. today:
Republicans in the state Senate ordered Democrats on Thursday to return to the chamber by 4 p.m. or be found in contempt of the Senate - a move that means Democrats could be taken into custody.
"We simply cannot have democracy be held hostage because the minority wants to prove a point," said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau).
HuffPost's Mark Blumenthal writes:
A new survey released this morning by the Pew Research Center is the first to provide a clear before-and-after snapshot of national attitudes toward labor unions in the wake of the ongoing protests and budget conflict in Wisconsin:
The public’s overall views of labor unions have changed little through the lengthy stalemate between Wisconsin’s governor and the state’s public employee unions over collective bargaining rights. About half (47%) say they have a favorable opinion of labor unions compared with 39% who have an unfavorable opinion. In early February, 45% expressed a favorable opinion of unions and 41% said they had an unfavorable view. However, liberal Democrats and people in union households are more likely to say they have a very favorable opinion of labor unions than they were just weeks ago.
See the Pew Research report for their complete analysis and full results by party, ideology and union membership subgroups. The Pew Center had also conducted an in-depth survey on unions in early February, just before Walker released the budget bill that sparked the protests.
On Wednesday afternoon, former congressman Dave Obey -- who served from 1969 until retiring this year -- was barred from entering the Wisconsin statehouse.
“I’ve been coming to this building since 1958 and I’ve never been denied access,” Obey stated. Although he did not tell security officials who he was -- because he believed everyone should have access, regardless of title -- others did inform them.
Yesterday, a judge issued an injunction ordering the Capitol building "open...to members of the public during business hours and at times when governmental matters, such as hearings, listening sessions and court arguments are being conducted."
Several Democratic members of the Assembly set up desks outside to meet with their constituents, arguing that people could not get to their offices.
“Governor Walker’s lockdown of the Capitol during normal business hours betrays Wisconsin’s longstanding dedication to open government and is an insult to the people of Wisconsin," said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D) in a statement. "I call on Governor Walker to let the people back into the People’s House immediately.”
The City of Madison has filed a police report charging a 23-year-old man for "disorderly conduct" after he unplugged extension cords from a Fox News vehicle. Read the full report here.
Adding another state into the debate on public workers, West Virginia's Herald-Dispatch reports:
West Virginia's public employees would reap pay raises averaging 2 percent this year, with a second year of increases promised to teachers and school workers, under a proposal advanced Wednesday to the state Senate by the House.
But the 78-22 vote reflected GOP-led concerns that increasing state spending threatens a stable budgetary picture that has so far allowed West Virginia to avoid deficits and the painful choices they can force. Foes also contrasted the pay hikes with the state's continuing unemployment woes.
Full story here.
More details have surfaced on Ohio's controversial SB 5, which just passed the state senate.
Senate Bill 5 would prohibit public-employee unions representing teachers, librarians, toll collectors and others from bargaining over health benefits, pensions and working conditions. Under the bill, unions could still negotiate wages, but striking would be prohibited for all public workers, taking away a major bargaining chip. Workers could face a fine of up to ,000, or 30 days in jail, if they go on strike.
A Twitter campaign, #standupOH, has already mounted. As user @escapetochengdu tweeted, "The bill that just passed Ohio Senate allows the government to jail striking librarians for 30 days. Despicable."
Read the whole Wall Street Journal story here.
The bill put forth by an Ohio panel earlier today has passed the state senate, TPM reports:
The Ohio State Senate just passed the controversial SB 5, aimed a limiting unionized state employees' ability to collectively bargain or go on strike.
In an indication of how divisive the legislation is in the Buckeye State, the final vote in the Senate was 17-16.
Gov. John Kasich (R) has endorsed the measure and is expected to sign it when it reaches his desk.
Full story here.
A tourism campaign leveraging the Wisconsin senators who fled to Rockford, Illinois has gone viral. The push, "Hide Away In Rockford," hawks "collectively bargained" rates to some of the town's best tourist attractions.
“Unlike Wisconsin’s state senators, this video isn’t low key; it’s been a real runaway hit," said Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (RACVB) President/CEO John Groh of the campaign's success.
Watch the promotional video here.
HuffPost's resident pollster Mark Blumenthal reports:
WASHINGTON -- A automated telephone poll conducted this week in Wisconsin by the Democratic-affiliated firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) largely confirms other recent polls showing public support for collective bargaining rights for unions and, by a narrow margin, more opposition than support for the agenda of Gov. Scott Walker (R). Some caution is in order, however, about several vote preference questions included in the same survey.
Despite the ongoing coverage and national interest in the controversy, all of the opinion surveys taken within Wisconsin so far have had sponsors with partisan ties, and each has taken a different approach to the questions asked. Where their questions have been similar, however, we can begin to compare the results.
Read more here.
HuffPost's Amanda Terkel and Sam Stein report:
WASHINGTON -- Wisconsin's Republican state senators are attempting to commandeer the staffs of the 14 Democrats who have been camped out in nearby Illinois for nearly two weeks, the latest effort to convince their colleagues to return and move forward on Gov. Scott Walker's controversial budget repair bill.
A resolution proposed on Wednesday would allow Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) to "assign supervision over any employee appointed by a Senator who is absent without leave for 2 or more session days." The absent senator would retain control of the office's data, however, presumably meaning that Republican senators would not be allowed to access the Democrats' electronic or paper files.
The measure is almost certain to pass, as the state Committee on Senate Organization, which has jurisdiction over such measures, is composedd of three Republicans and two Democrats. Fitzgerald's office could not be reached for comment.
Read the rest here.
HuffPost's Sam Stein reports:
WASHINGTON -- The Wisconsin Democratic Party has launched a fundraising campaign to recall state Senate Republicans who have supported the budget bill by Gov. Scott Walker (R) that would strip collective bargaining rights from the state's public employee unions.
Read the whole story, and see the email they sent out, here.
Reuters reports that a panel of state senators in Ohio has voted to strip unions of some collective bargaining rights as well as the right to strike:
The Senate Labor Committee vote was 7-5, with one Republican and four Democrats voting against. The measure now moves to the Republican-controlled state Senate, which could approve it as early as Wednesday.
If endorsed by the state legislature and signed by Republican Governor John Kasich, Ohio would become the biggest state so far to enact sweeping restrictions on public sector unions.
Full story here.
Wisconsin state GOP senators voted to fine their absent colleagues 0 per day they stay away, the Wisconsin State Journal reports:
Senate Republicans stepped up their efforts Wednesday to compel the 14 Senate Democrats who fled Wisconsin two weeks ago to come home.
The Senate voted to impose a 0 per day fee for any senator who is absent without leave for two or more session days. Republicans remaining in the Senate approved the daily fine resolution with none of the Democrats present.
Full story here.
Wisconsin State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald spoke with CNN's Eliot Spitzer, during which Spitzer asked him if it was fair to cut both education funding and taxes for the wealthy.
HuffPost's Sam Stein reports that ,000 was raised online in first two hours for new PCCC/DFA ad hitting Scott Walker and Republicans in Wisconsin. By the three-hour mark, the amount had risen to ,000.
See ad and fundraising here.
HuffPost's Nick Wing looks at the myriad advertisements that have emerged on Wisconsin airwaves since the protests began:
Tensions between Wisconsin public employees and Republican Gov. Scott Walker have led to the beginning of an advertising war marked by a volley of commercials coming from a variety of sources.
The first salvo was launched last week by a third-party group, the Koch-backed conservative organization Americans for Prosperity. Entitled "Stand with Scott Walker," the commercial commends the governor for purportedly taking the necessary steps to address the state's budget shortfalls, actions that would force public employees to pay a larger share of their pensions and health care benefits, as well as limit collective bargaining rights of the state's unions. It also directs blame at President Obama for supposedly helping to organize the massive protests, which the ad argues don't represent the will of Wisconsin voters.
Read more and watch the commercials here.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is out with a new ad in Wisconsin that features protesters in Madison describing how Gov. Scott Walker's budget will affect them. Scroll down for video, via Greg Sargent.
More details on Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's press conference today, AP reports:
After focusing for weeks on his proposal to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights, Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday presented his full budget – a plan that cuts .5 billion in aid to public schools and local government but avoids any tax or fee increases, furloughs or widespread layoffs.
Walker said the cuts could be paid for in large part by forcing government employees to pay more for their pension and health care benefits. And the governor whose cost-cutting ideas have stirred a national debate over public-sector unions gave no indication he would soften his demand to reduce their power at the negotiating table.
Full story here.
HuffPost blogger Tom Hayes examines the situation in Wisconsin in the context of social networking:
If anyone in the world should be paying close attention to the grassroots political unrest in the Middle East, it is Big Business and Big Labor in America. The rise of self-organized groups of people toppling once-entrenched regimes is a harbinger of things to come here in the U.S. too.
For now, traditional battle lines are more immediate. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker's attempt to break the public employee union there is being characterized by some as a last gasp test for Labor. It is not. The fate of big unions has already been cast. Like record stores and time-bound television, the labor union as an organizing device has outlived its usefulness: people simply don't need intermediaries to organize them into groups anymore.
Read the whole post here.
Wisconsin state representative Michelle Litjens (R), who was allegedly told she was "f---ing dead" by fellow representative Gordon Hintz for voting in favor of the budget bill, discussed the scuffle with Laura Ingraham on her radio show. (Hintz has since apologized for his "outburst," and Litjens says she accepts the apology.)
LISTEN (via Mediaite):
Governor Walker just asserted his budget repair bill will save the state .5 billion. He says if the senate Democrats come home, local governments will gain 0 million in additional revenues.
Governor Walker is calling for Wisconsinites to come together to "make tough decisions," asking for a commitment to the "future" so "our children don't face even more dire consequences." He asserts that his budget bill will make Wisconsin work for the people again.
Scott Walker has just said the "people of Wisconsin" are his most important priority, to applause. He asks his constituents to be "mindful of differences" in opinion, and applauds the state assembly for "not losing sight" of their goals and passing the budget bill.
Governor Scott Walker is currently holding a press conference to discuss his proposed cuts to the state budget. Updates to come. Watch live video here.
Wisconsin TV producer Jen Ayers just tweeted:
Snipers on the roof of buildings near the capitol... wowsers.
More to come...
Democrats have raised the possibility of pushing a recall campaign against Republican state senators in Wisconsin who vote to strip the collective bargaining rights of public employees. On the other side, Republicans have talked about recalling some of the Democratic senators who left the state.
Now on the liberal blog DailyKos, Chris Bowers writes that Democrats who strike a compromise to take away collective bargaining rights should also expect to face progressive heat:
If this bill passes with the provisions stripping collective bargaining rights, then anyone who votes for it should expect to face a broadly based recall effort that we will support here at Daily Kos. Further, the Democratic senators who break first and let collective bargaining rights be stripped by returning to the state should not necessarily consider themselves exempt from such a campaign. This is an existential fight for workers' rights, and as such it must be fought with every legal means available.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Brewers infielder Craig Counsell supports the efforts of Wisconsin's union workers.
He said in a statement:
“As a Major League baseball player for the Milwaukee Brewers who works in Wisconsin under a union contract and whose right to bargain collectively is guaranteed under federal law, I support the thousands of public sector employees who are threatened with the loss of that right under recently-proposed state legislation. These employees are real people with real families whose livelihoods, careers and futures are being jeopardized. I urge the government of Wisconsin not to take away this most basic of union and human rights.”