Yesterday evening, as most of you know, the Republican majority in the Wisconsin State Senate pushed through a bill that would severely limit state employees’ ability to bargain collectively through unions. The bill, which was presented three weeks ago as part of new governor Scott Walker’s first state budget proposal, had been stalled by Democrats in the Senate who had managed to keep that body from obtaining quorum.
Here’s a quick rundown on what happened last night, and what’s coming up today and in the future.
For most legislation, a simple majority is enough to conduct Senate business, but certain financial legislation requires a sixty percent quorum. For the last three weeks, everyone in Wisconsin has been operating from the premise that this bill triggered that sixty percent provision, which meant that the Dems in the chamber (14 of 33 Senators, or 42.4%) could keep the Senate from acting by refusing to show up. But last night the Republican majority met and passed the bill on virtually no notice, while the Democratic Senators remained out of state.
Questions have been raised about the legality of last night’s actions, both on the basis of the quorum requirement and on notice and open meetings grounds. But this morning the bill is moving to the Wisconsin State Assembly, where the Republican majority is taking it up this morning.
There’s a lot more to say, and I’ll be updating this post as the day goes on, but that’ll do for a start.
10:30 Wisconsin Time | Thousands of demonstrators descended on the Capitol yesterday evening, and hundreds camped out in the rotunda last night, but the Capitol has been cleared and locked down in advance of this morning’s planned Assembly session. And when I say “locked down” I mean REALLY locked down — the Wisconsin Daily Journal is reporting that reporters were refused entry to the Capitol this morning when they showed up for a press conference called by the Assembly’s minority leader. Even more bizarre, at least one state legislator has told the WDJ that he was turned away from the building, despite the fact that he is a member of the body that is scheduled to hold a vote in the near future.
10:40 | Correction to last update: The Capitol is currently locked down, but last night’s crowds have not yet been fully cleared. Reports on Twitter say police are physically removing people now.
10:50 | I’m seeing reports of hundreds of students walking out of Madison-area high schools and middle schools this morning, and heading to the Capitol as a group. Will post confirming links when/if I get them.
11:00 | I’m off to teach. I’ll update on Twitter as I can, and I’ll be back with more this afternoon.
11:05 | According to the Cap Times liveblog, police just announced plans to open the Capitol to the public at 11 am.
3:30 pm | Back from teaching. The Assembly has been in session for several hours now, and the Republican majority has rebuffed several Democratic attempts to slow things down in light of last night’s controversies. The vote on the bill is expected soon. More in a moment…
3:45 pm | With twenty members of the Assembly waiting to speak, and Democratic legislators shouting out points of order and other procedural objections, the vote was just called. The bill passed 53-42, with several Republicans defecting to the Democratic side.