Testimony about Gov. Scott Walker's plan to eliminate collective bargaining for public workers has finally ended, five hours after the co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee ended the hearing.
Democratic lawmakers continued a listening session into the early morning hours for citizens that didn't get a chance to speak to the full committee earlier.
People that hadn't gotten the chance to speak didn't leave the building, pulling out sleeping bags in the rotunda and settling in. So, Democratic lawmakers decided to stay at the Capitol, allowing testimony to stretch more than 20 hours.
The committee was in its 12th straight hour of taking testimony when co-chair Rep. Robin Vos, of Rochester, said Tuesday night that no additional speakers would be allowed to speak other than the roughly 300 that had already signed up.
"The testimony we're hearing, while it's good and compelling personal stories, we're not necessarily plowing a whole lot of new ground. People are taking about the issues we've already heard before," said Vos.
Vos said he's trying to avoid what a previous testifier called a "citizen filibuster" to delay legislative action on the bill. The co-chairs also considered curtailing the amount of time that registered people have to speak.
The hallways outside the hearing room were filled with people chanting "let us speak" and "kill the bill" after they realized that no more people could sign up to speak.
Democrats on the panel cried foul and said everyone who showed up should be allowed to testify.
"We have not heard of ever a hearing ending before every person had the right to speak. That ended here tonight. That is a Wisconsin tradition we should never allow to end," said Assembly minority leader Rep. Peter Barca.
"For those who were discourages and felt great defeat after November 3rd and felt as though we were down and out, at 3:00 in the morning after a daylong hearing, this is the rebirth of the progressive movement in Wisconsin," said Sen. Robert Rauch.
Rep. Vos said he expects the committee to reconvene sometime around noon Wednesday for discussion before taking a vote on the bill. Vos said he expects few changes to be made to the bill before it's passed. The full Senate is expected to have enough votes to pass the bill as soon as Thursday, with the Assembly expected to follow.
Another major set of protests are scheduled at the Capitol Wednesday. An estimated 13,000 people showed up at the Capitol Tuesday to protest the bill.
The hearing before the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee began at 10 a.m. Tuesday and scores of people jammed into the hearing room. Government workers told the committee the bill would send Wisconsin backward. The bill's supporters said public workers must make sacrifices to help balance the state's budget.
Meg Ellefson, who said she leads the Wausau Tea Party, said her husband has always accepted what his employer offered and paid his share of health insurance costs with no negotiation.
"This isn't about private versus public sector. This isn't about us versus them. This is about we the people of Wisconsin. What are we the people of Wisconsin going to do as individuals to help save our state?" Ellefson said.
Monona Grove High School teacher Denise Peterson countered that the bill is about destroying unions, not the state's finances.
"What does denying school districts and local municipalities the right to collective bargain, if they choose to, have to do with your budget? Nothing," Peterson said.
Throughout the day Tuesday, hundreds of passionate residents stood in a line that snaked down hallways outside the hearing room.
"I think probably at some point this afternoon, I should get in here. I'll wait all day if I have to," said Michael Amato, a University of Wisconsin-Madison teaching assistant.
Hundreds more packed overflow rooms, where they were allowed to clap and cheer and hold signs.
"I did want to speak, but there's a long wait; the list is too long," said Kathleen Rideout, a city of Madison employee.
Even more people spent parts of the day in the Capitol rotunda to watch the committee on TVs there, and at times, the chanting got too loud to even hear the audio blasting from TVs, WISC-TV reported.
Lawmakers said that speakers addressing the committee would only get two minutes to speak before the body, which upset some lawmakers. But despite the uproar, DOA officials said that they're trying to quell fears about the bill.
The committee chairs asked for no outbursts. They said during the first applause for speakers' comments, they'd ask people to leave if it continued.