Wisconsin Assembly Approves Bill Stripping Away Union Rights

VIDEO: Protests in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Assembly members early this morning approved a bill that would take away the majority of state workers' collective bargaining rights.

Closure on the controversial bill is far from over, however, as it now heads to the state Senate where 14 Democratic lawmakers have been absent for a week.

Earlier, Gov. Scott Walker backed away from a self-imposed deadline of today for approving his controversial "budget repair bill" as the legislature remained embroiled in gridlock and the 14 Senate Democrats stayed in hiding.

Walker would not say how long he will wait for the bill to pass. The legislation would balance the state's budget, repeal most union collective bargaining agreements for public workers and give his administration power to change the state's health program.

But he said failure to move the bill forward could result in state aid to local governments being cut by nearly $1 billion, and teacher layoffs.

"Year after year, politicians passed the buck and that's precisely why we are in trouble today and its got to stop," the Republican governor said. "It's not just about protecting the taxpayers, but it's also about protecting the workers."

But neither Republicans nor Democrats were willing to blink first in the week-long debate that has resulted in 14 lawmakers in the Wisconsin Senate fleeing their state, and brought tens of thousands of protestors inside the Wisconsin capitol building.

Earlier, it was believed that Assembly Democrats and Republicans had reached a deal to speed up the vote by limiting the minority to 38 amendments given under a strict 10 minute time frame.

But drums and faint chants of "this is what democracy looks like" continued to pierce through the thick wooden doors of the Assembly as Democrats charged repeatedly that Republicans were giving them a similar ultimatum as the unions.

"The same deal that was given to us was given to workers, take it or leave it," said Rep. Joe Parisi (D- Madison).

The Republican leadership says they have been lax on time limits during the marathon session.

Assembly speaker Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) said "time is running out before the lack of a vote forces pink slips to start going out."

If that happens it may hit close to home. Fitzgerald's brother Scott is Senate Majority Leader and his wife, who works as a counselor in a local school district received a preliminary layoff notice.

Protesters followed and applauded the Assembly Democratic Minority leadership as a small group tried to meet with Gov. Scott Walker in his office and offer a compromise to the week-long impasse. Walker was a no show.

The Democrats proposed to keep collective bargaining rights for public workers. Gov. Walker later said he had reviewed the proposal and that it was more of the same.

The Republican leadership in the Assembly called the move a stunt.

Before Thursday, Democrats had threatened to propose hundreds of changes to the controversial bill that has garnered national attention and brought union supporters from across the nation in support of their Wisconsin colleagues.

Minority leader Peter Barca said he decided to limit discussion only after Democrats were given an ultimatum to either limit the number of amendments or that the process was going to be shut down.

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