MADISON, Wis. - A bill eliminating most collective bargaining rights from nearly all Wisconsin public employees passed the Legislature's budget-writing committee just before midnight Wednesday.
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The bill passed with all Republicans backing it and no Democratic support.
"We don't have a lot of options here folks. It's not like we're choosing to do this. We are broke," said Rep. Alberta Darling, R-River Falls
"What you're about to do is destroy the fabric of who we are, and I can't figure out why," said Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar.
Republicans made some changes, but nothing that keeps bargaining rights intact. The issue is at the heart of what attracted more than 10,000 protesters to the Capitol each of the past two days.
"I think this is really putting lipstick on a pig. It's not even lipstick, it's chapstick. You know it's there, but you can't see it. The changes are pretty tough to find,"said Rep. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse.
A childcare worker burst into tears upon the bill's passage, saying it will destroy her union.
"It was like having knives driven into my back. Childcare providers were not here this week because they were taking care of Wisconsin children, and Wisconsin has sent a very clear message about how they feel about family childcare providers," said Anneliese Sheahan, who belongs to AFSCME.
As Democratic lawmakers left the Capitol building after the vote, they were cheered on by protestors were once again preparing to sleep in the building.
The deal will be taken up at 11 a.m. Thursday morning by the Republican-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said it will pass. It then heads to the Republican-controlled Assembly.
Fitzgerald said he thinks taxpayers will support the idea.
Fitzgerald said Wednesday that some changes would be made to the bill, but the core parts of Walker's plan would remain, including the provision affecting collective bargaining and another one requiring employees to make larger contributions to their pensions and health insurance.
More rallies and protests are being held at the state Capitol on Thursday after thousands descended on the city's downtown for the second straight day to denounce the governor's plan.
Some lawmakers said that because of the protests and testimony at Tuesday's Joint Finance Committee hearing that lasted 17 hours, they offered some amendments to Walker's proposal.
"We've been working with the governor's office, so he is definitely on board with where we're looking to go. So we are trying to find those good, positive changes that are going to make the bill better, but not necessarily have substantive changes that are going to dramatically alter the bill in a way that some of the protesters might hope," said Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington, the co-chairman of the budget committee.
The amendments include some changes to worker protections, but no change to the collective bargaining rights provisions.
"I know there are a lot of people protesting. We've seen it for the last couple days, primarily public employee unions, teacher unions. But you know what? I think there were a lot of people on Nov. 2nd that spoke loud and clear of what direction they want this state to head," Fitzgerald said.
While state Republicans said their changes are responsive to what hundreds told them in committee Tuesday, Democrats said the changes only amount to lip service.
"I think this is really putting lipstick on a pig. It's not even lipstick, it's Chap Stick. You know it's there, but you can't see it; the changes are pretty tough to find," said Rep. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse.
"The tens of thousands of people who have e-mailed and come to the Capitol, who have been on the phones, and our neighbors and grandparents, feel that this is personal to them, and they will be satisfied only when they're assured that workers rights are not going to be taken away from them," said Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar.
GOP lawmakers revealed they will amend the budget repair bill to remove a provision stripping pension and health benefits from state LTEs.
The GOP amendment will also mandate local governments offer civil service protections to public employees similar to those state employees receive.
"It's not restoring collective bargaining in any way, but certainly addresses a concern there was a gap created at the local level," Fitzgerald said.
Among other changes in the amendment, the GOP lawmakers want a 14-day passive review for the Joint Finance Committee on state-owned power plant sales and more review over the Walker administration's ability to make changes to the Medicaid program.
Republicans said they have the votes to pass the amended bill in both houses Thursday.
Many Teachers Attend Protests At Capitol
While legislators debated the bill inside the Capitol building, protesters continued to arrive by the thousands.
Many of those rallying Wednesday were teachers who could also lose their collective bargaining rights in the bill.
It could mean paying more into health care and pensions, which protesters said would be equal to a pay cut that would make it difficult to make ends meet.
For the second consecutive day, about 10,000 protesters came out to oppose Walker's bill.
"It means, as workers, we're supporting each other so that we get the fair rights that we deserve," elementary teacher Nikki Burke said.
Throughout the crowd, Burke was joined by other Madison Metropolitan School District teachers.
Madison Metropolitan School District officials said at least 40 percent of staff called in sick by Wednesday morning, forcing all the day's classes to be canceled.
Teachers said what's best for the union is best for the students.
"As a teacher, I owe it to my students to make sure we have what we need to be good teachers," Burke said.
"This is, in a lot of ways, what we teach our kids to do, to take an active role in our political system," said Eric Franco, a high school history teacher.
Students also joined in, some supporting their parents while others supported teachers.
Teachers with the most to lose said they're in it for the long-haul.
"What happens if this passes and we want to protest another law? Then we won't be missing a day's pay, we'll be fired. To me, this is an attack on my civil and democratic liberties," said Cecelia Gredell, a Madison history teacher.
While many teachers called in sick and attended the protest, others still went to school despite no students being there.
Staff at Gompers Elementary School in Madison entered the building together at contract time Wednesday morning.
In a joint-statement sent to WISC-TV, the teachers said their decision to go to work and not attend the day's rally was a personal and individual decision. Still, they said they support those who went to the Capitol and agree with the union's stance that a strong message must be sent
Madison Teachers Inc. executive director John Matthews said the union was contacting members and urging them to attend rallies at the Capitol. Matthews said it's the first coordinated absence by Madison school employees in 16 years.
Milwaukee Public Schools sent an e-mail to teachers warning them not to be absent without prior approval.
Wisconsin Education Association Council spokeswoman Christina Brey said she knew of no other school districts, except for Madison, that were forced to close Wednesday.
There have also been no reports of higher than usual absences at state prisons.
Walker has said the National Guard stands ready to step in to operate the prisons if workers fail to show up. A union leader for prison workers didn't immediately return messages.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Walker's office at the state Capitol and are shouting "recall Walker now" and "Walker has got to go."
Besides the Capitol, some students have joined in the protest efforts. About 200 Oregon High School students walked out of classes on Wednesday in support of teachers' rights.
Students at Mt. Horeb, Wonnewoc, Waunakee and DeForest also staged walkouts on Wednesday.
The protesters are taking issue with Walker's budget repair plan, which he presented last week. The governor said besides removing workers' collective bargaining rights, except when negotiating salary, state employees need to pay more for health care benefits and their pensions. Local firefighters, such as local police and members of the Wisconsin State Patrol, are exempt in the bill.
The governor said that the moves are necessary to better contend with the state's fiscal problems and he can't negotiate with the unions since the state has nothing to offer. The bill's supporters said public workers must make sacrifices to help balance the state's budget. The state has a projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall.
However, the measure's opponents said that they believe the bill is an attack on middle-class families.
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