Patti Wenzel

Wisconsin Assembly budget bill “debate” no debate at all

By - Feb 22nd, 2011 05:53 pm

Fire fighters from across the country marched in Madison on Tuesday. Photo by Patti Wenzel

As the Assembly and Senate went back in session Tuesday morning, smaller but equally loud crowds gathered outside the Capitol, chanting “Kill the Bill” on the eighth day of protest and heated debate in Madison.

The Assembly Democrats, not to be fooled again after their Republican counterparts tried to push through a budget bill vote 10 minutes prior to last Friday’s scheduled session start time, began gathering in the chamber 10 minutes before the scheduled 11 a.m. session start.  Today, it was the Republicans who were tardy, holding up the start of business for almost an hour while remaining in caucus .

Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) whose impassioned pleas last Friday stopped the Republicans from moving forward with a final vote on the budget repair bill, loudly told his GOP colleagues as they filed in the room, “Hey, we didn’t start without you!”

And when the body finally gaveled in at 11:55 a.m.,  Barca offered a motion, which he immediately tabled, to remove Assembly Speaker Pro Temore Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha) for his behavior during Friday evening’s Assembly session.

Calling the action of starting the session three minutes before the posted time illegal, unprecedented, and a violation of the state’s own open meetings law, Barca demanded adherence to the laws, rules and customs of the Assembly. He added that if the Speaker and the Republican party would not adhere to them, he would immediately call for a vote to remove the Assembly leadership.

The Assembly leadership is separate from the Majority Party leaders, even though in this case, the Pro Tempore Speaker is a ranking member of the GOP.

While Barca was upset, he was willing to simply put his GOP colleagues on notice. Rep. Andy Jorgensen (D-Fort Atkinson) was not as ready to compromise.

“I am calling for the removal of the speaker pro tem,” Jorgensen said. “What he allowed was inappropriate, disgusting and illegal. He deserves to be removed. He refused to acknowledge us in this body. He made a mockery with his sarcasm.”

He reminded Kramer that calling the session open early on Friday evening was illegal.  “It is a violation of our open meeting laws,” he said. “And that means it is illegal.”

Jorgensen also questioned whether there was collusion between the Assembly Republicans and Gov. Scott Walker.

“You knew the capitol press wouldn’t be here, since the governor called a press conference at the same time.  The last remaining shreds of my niavite are gone. You all think this is quite clever. The gentleman from the 38th (Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc)) fist-poked his seatmate.  Fist-bumping on a bill like this, you didn’t score a touchdown; you’re taking peoples rights away and attempted to steal my vote.”

Eventually, the body got down to discussing the amendments forwarded by the minority. Among the many amendments was an attempt to restore the right to strike by public employees, if the collective bargaining rights would be removed. Rep. Corey Mason (D-Racine) explained the idea of “labor peace” and how this bill would rip that peace apart.

“For a long time, strikes were the only way they could get recognition. So when this body passed these protections in 1959, those who gave us critical, important services, the public employees, were willing to forgo their right to strike if the government would acknowledge their right to collective bargain and have a neutral arbitrator,” he said. “This is not a concession the private sector has to make.”

Mason continued that without collective bargaining, the public employees would have no voice to speak out against labor grievances, so to be fair the Assembly should return their right to strike to the bill.

Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) recalled the labor riots of 1886 in Bay View and bemoaned the Assembly’s attempt to return to the days of sweatshops and child labor.

“It was the unions that brought us worker’s compensation, unemployment insurance and the 8-hour work day,” she said. “But I think you need to realize there was bloodshed in this state and country for the rights of workers. How dare you ignore the thousands of people who have been here to defend the rights fought for by our earlier generations.”

Despite numerous additional, impassioned pleas from Assembly Democrats, the amendment was tabled (or killed) on a straight party vote, 57-37.

Another amendment would lessen the effect of removing the collective bargaining rights from state law. Rep. Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee) motioned to send the bill back to the Assembly Labor Committee, in an effort to slow or kill the bill.

“We see this whole bill … as a deprivation of rights,” Kessler said. He also predicted labor strife, recalling the teacher strikes of the early 1970s.

“We are going to see disruptions, substantial disruptions, in families, in teachers, in children’s lives” Kessler said.

The Democrats are continuing to offer amendments, but what is happening on the floor of the Assembly can’t seriously be called debate. Not a single Republican, except for Kleefisch, has spoken so far, and that was only to object to allowing a Democrat more time to speak.

Down the hall, though the Senate Democrats remain in Illinois, Republicans gaveled in and worked in committee, discussing  non-fiscal bills. Sen. John Erpenbach (D-Middleton), calling in from an undisclosed location, attempted to take part in the committee discussion via telephone on the Voter ID bill, but Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) refused to allow his comments, calling him”unethical” for not returning to the Capitol while there was an open call to the house.

Erpenbach said his return to the Capitol was dependent on the Governor and asked Lazich if she was ready to see headlines noting that Republicans weren’t allowing Democrats to vote. Lazich was not moved, and called the Voter ID bill for a committee vote, which passed 3-0. The bill now moves onto the full Senate for debate.

On the other side of the building, Walker was preparing for his “fireside chat” with the people of Wisconsin at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

ThirdCoast Digest will continue to monitor the events in Madison and update this story as more developments are made.  You can also follow updates on TCD’s Facebook or on WisconsinEye.

Categories: Economy, News, Politics

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