Capitol Chaos: Assembly Passes Repair Bill

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MADISON - To Republican Assembly members, it was time.  From Democrats to their counterparts, it was "Shame!  Shame!  Shame!  Shame!"

As Republicans walked out of the State Assembly chambers early Friday morning following the passage of Governor Scott Walker's budget repair bill that - among many other provisions - would strip most public workers of many of their collective bargaining rights, the repeated screams of "Shame!" were the words screamed by orange-shirted Democratic counterparts.

It was very dramatic. Pandemonium. Chaos inside the state assembly.

After more than 60 hours of debate and 86 proposed amendments, Republicans said it was time to vote. 

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Click here to read the original budget bill

Click here to see who voted for and against the bill, and who didn't vote

Shortly after 1:00 a.m., after more than 60 hours of debate on this, the Republicans quickly called for the vote, which ended all debate.

Some of the Democrats were so taken aback by what had happened, they didn't get a chance to vote.  

The vote happened so fast, within seconds, that the bill pass with Republican voting for it, but while they were voting, Democrats kept yelling, "No!  No!  You can't do this!"

Republicans kept on voting, and within seconds, the bill had passed 51-17.  

Four Republicans voted against the bill - Dean Kaufert of Neenah, Lee Nerison of Westby, Travis Tranel of Cuba City and Richard Spanbauer of Oshkosh.

Some Democrats never had any time to vote on this because they were screaming and yelling to try to stop the vote, but it passed.  It happened so fast, so suddenly, they were caught off guard.

"I'm incensed. I'm shocked," said Milwaukee Democratic Representative John Richards. "What a terrible, terrible day for Wisconsin."

"At a time when we've had an unprecedented outpouring of support for this bill, in this Capitol, they have chosen to close down debate when we had 15 people ready to talk, and probably more ready to join the debate."

There might have been one or two Republicans that might not have had the chance to vote.

After it passed, Republicans started walking off the floor, and the Democrats started yelling "Shame!  Shame!  Shame!" as Republicans walked off, one by one, and left the Assembly floor.

Many Democrats claim it was an illegal vote, because they started talking about a rare procedural movement that they thought the Republican were going to use.  It's still unclear whether the Republicans played that card.  That's why the Democrats think this was an illegal vote, and they were going to meet and see if there was any sort of wrongdoing.

Republicans say there was no wrongdoing.

"They were holding the taxpayers of the state hostage by not allowing us to get to the vote," said Oconomowoc Republican Assemblyman Joel Kleefisch to TODAY'S TMJ4's Charles Benson.

"They had no intention of us taking the vote, and our obligations were to the citizens and taxpayers of Wisconsin.  We promised, and got elected on November 2nd, on balancing the budget, and not on the backs of the taxpayers."

"The vote we took wasn't the easy thing to do, but it was the right thing to do," Abbotsford Republican Representative Scott Suder said.

Democrats planned to look at videotape of the voting process to find out if they can make a case that the vote happened illegally.

Eventually, state troopers had to escort Republicans outside the State Capitol.  Democrats went into the Rotunda, and protesters applauded them, cheering, saying "Thank you."

Minority Democrats stalled the vote by launching a filibuster and offering dozens of amendments, forcing Republicans to defeat each proposal one-by one in a session that stretched on for more than three days straight.

The vote put an end to three straight days of punishing debate, but the political standoff over the bill is far from over. The measure now goes to the Senate, where minority Democrats have been missing for a week, preventing a vote in that chamber.

No one knows when -- or if -- the Senate Democrats will return from their hideout in Illinois. Republicans who control the chamber sent state troopers out looking for them at their homes on Thursday, but they turned up nothing.

Gov. Scott Walker's proposal contains a number of provisions he says are designed to fill the state's $137 million deficit and lay the groundwork for fixing a projected $3.6 billion shortfall in the upcoming 2011-13 budget. The flashpoint is language that would strip almost all public sector workers of their right to collectively bargain benefits and work conditions.

Democrats and unions see the measure as an attack on workers' rights and an attempt to cripple union support for Democrats. Unions have said they would be willing to accept a provision that would increase workers' contributions to their pensions and health care, provided they could still bargain collectively. But Walker has refused to compromise.

Tens of thousands of people have jammed the state Capitol since last week to protest, pounding on drums and chanting so loudly that police who are providing security have resorted to ear plugs. Hundreds have taken to sleeping in the building overnight, dragging in air mattresses and blankets.

Gov. Scott Walker's proposal contains a number of provisions he says are designed to fill the state's $137 million deficit and lay the groundwork for fixing a projected $3.6 billion shortfall in the upcoming 2011-13 budget. The flashpoint is language that would strip almost all public sector workers of their right to collectively bargain benefits and work conditions.

Democrats and unions see the measure as an attack on workers' rights and an attempt to cripple union support for Democrats. Unions have said they would be willing to accept a provision that would increase workers' contributions to their pensions and health care, provided they could still bargain collectively. But Walker has refused to compromise.

Tens of thousands of people have jammed the state Capitol since last week to protest, pounding on drums and chanting so loudly that police who are providing security have resorted to ear plugs. Hundreds have taken to sleeping in the building overnight, dragging in air mattresses and blankets.

The governor has said that if the bill does not pass by Friday, the state will miss a deadline to refinance $165 million of debt and will be forced to start issuing layoff notices next week. However, the deadline may not as strict as he says.

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau said earlier this week that the debt refinancing could be pushed back as late as Tuesday to achieve the savings Walker wants. Based on a similar refinancing in 2004, about two weeks are needed after the bill becomes law to complete the deal. That means if the bill is adopted by the middle of next week, the state can still meet a March 16 deadline, the Fiscal Bureau said.

Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach said he and his colleagues wouldn't return until Walker compromised.

Frustrated by the delay, Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Jeff Fitzgerald's brother, ordered state troopers to find the missing Democrats, but they came up empty. Wisconsin law doesn't allow police to arrest the lawmakers, but Fitzgerald said he hoped the show of authority would have pressured them to return.

Erpenbach, who was in the Chicago area, said all 14 senators remained outside of Wisconsin.

"It's not so much the Democrats holding things up," Erpenbach said. "It's really a matter of Gov. Walker holding things up."