Bypassing Senate Democrats who fled the state, Republican senators in Wisconsin managed to pass legislation Wednesday to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights.
In mid-February, 14 Democratic state senators left Wisconsin to avoid having to vote on the budget repair bill. There are 19 Republican senators, but the Senate needs a minimum of 20 members to be present to debate and vote on any bills that spend money.
While the 14 Democratic senators remained in Illinois, Republicans split the proposal to limit public employees' collective bargaining rights from the budget repair bill and passed the separate piece of legislation shortly afterward.
"The Senate Democrats have had three weeks to debate this bill and were offered repeated opportunities to come home, which they refused," Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said in a statement. "In order to move the state forward, 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 the government. The action today will help ensure Wisconsin has a business climate that allows the private sector to create 250,000 new jobs."
One Republican, Sen. Dale Schultz, voted against the measure.
The new stand-alone bill to curb collective bargaining rights still needs to be passed by the Wisconsin Assembly before it can be signed into law by Gov. Walker.
"I think it's akin to political hara-kiri," Democratic state Sen. Bob Jauch told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I think it's political suicide."
Under Wisconsin law, any elected official who has served at least one year of their current term can be recalled from office. Eight Republican senators are currently eligible to be recalled. Gov. Walker, who was inaugurated last January, will not be eligible for a recall until 2012.
"This is on the Republicans' heads right now," state Sen. Chris Larson (D) said. "If they decide to kill the middle class, it's on them."
"Everyone who is party to this travesty is writing their political obituary," he added.