Entries in Madison (9)


Wisconsin Court Upholds Law to Gut Collective Bargaining Rights

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(MADISON, Wis.) -- Chalk up a big win for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans who championed a controversial law that virtually kills the collective bargaining rights of state workers.

The state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a committee of lawmakers did not violate Wisconsin's open meetings law when it hurriedly pushed through the statute earlier this year.  The decision overturns a ruling by a Dane County judge who the court said exceeded her jurisdiction by stopping the publication and implementation of the collective bargaining law.

Walker said the law was necessary to balance the state budget while its opponents maintained it was simply a union-busting measure intended to weaken a constituency that supports Democrats in general elections.

The law spurred massive protests in Madison last February as Senate Democrats fled the state for three weeks to prevent a vote from occurring.  However, Republicans removed fiscal parts of the law, enabling the Legislature to pass it without the Senate Democrats present.

Since then, supporters and opponents of the law have scheduled recall elections for this summer that could affect the balance of power in the Legislature that might allow Democrats to repeal the law.  Meanwhile, there are a number of lawsuits pending to stop the law's implementation.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Palin: 'All Aboard' Obama's 'Bullet Train to Bankruptcy'

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(MADISON, Wis.) -- Despite an overcast and snowy day, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin spoke outside the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison on Saturday to rally Tea Party members.

During her speech, Palin called out to the beltway GOP, telling them that she and the rest of the Tea Party will fight with them if they stand by their pledges, and then took swings at President Obama, saying he has increased American debt and mismanaged the recession.

“Hey media, it’s not inciting violence and it’s not hateful rhetoric to call someone out on their record,” Palin said.

“We’re flat broke and he thinks these solar shingles and really fast trains will magically save us,” she said. “So now he’s yelling ‘all aboard’ his bullet train to bankruptcy.”

In regard to Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan, Palin said Obama “demonized the voices of responsibility with class warfare and with fear mongering.”

Palin also praised Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker, and the state's legislature for overcoming "death threats and thug tactics," to pass a controversial  bill that virtually eliminates public employees’ collective bargaining rights.

"You held your ground, your governor did the right thing, and you won," she said.  "He's not trying to hurt union members. Hey, folks, he's trying to save your jobs and your pensions!"

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Wisconsin Governor Ready to Sign Union-Busting Bill

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(MADISON, Wisc.) -- It's all over in Wisconsin, but the shouting is expected to go on for quite a while after the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill that strips the state's 175,000 workers of most of their collective bargaining rights.

The measure is a huge victory for Gov. Scott Walker, who said it was necessary so that Wisconsin could put the state's fiscal house in order.  The state faces a $137 million budget shortfall that Walker says will grow to $3.6 billion in a few years without major concessions from the unions.

Critics say Walker was only playing politics and that his real motivation was weakening unions in order to weaken the Democratic Party.  Several states, including Ohio, are moving ahead with similar proposals that target the labor rights of public employees.

Walker is poised to sign the bill after the state's Assembly Thursday passed the measure 53 to 42, with no support from Democrats.  Pro-union supporters in the gallery screamed "Shame! Shame! Shame!" as GOP lawmakers exited the chamber.  Earlier, about 20 protesters were removed by police so that the Assembly members could debate the bill and cast a vote.

The Assembly's vote came a day after Senate Republicans stripped the financial provisions from the controversial bill, which enabled them to pass it without the necessary quorum.

Fourteen Democrats fled to Illinois three weeks ago to prevent a vote from taking place.  However, Senate Republicans got around their absence Wednesday with the procedural move.

The bill passed by Republicans ends collective bargaining on health benefits, pensions, hours, overtime, vacation, work schedules and sick leave or family leave, rights state and local workers have had for 50 years.  Workers can now only bargain for wage increases so long as they don't exceed the rate of inflation.

The unions had already agreed to a key concession by offering to pay more into their pensions and health plans.

Police and firefighters, who supported Walker's run for governor last fall, are exempt from the new rules.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Wisc. Standoff Intensifies: Walker Won't Relent, Dems Won't Return

Scott Olson/Getty Images(MADISON, Wisc.) -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in a news conference on Monday ratcheted up pressure on the 14 absent Senate Democrats to return to Madison. Walker singled out Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller as the “barrier” to their return, noting “a handful” of the other Democrats have signaled that they wish to return soon.

Walker did not offer any indication that he would relent on his proposal to end most collective bargaining rights for public employee unions. Senate Republican leader Scott Fitzgerald told reporters “we are not flexible on this piece.”

Senate Democrats, who fled the state more than two weeks ago, have given conflicting signals on their willingness to return.  Earlier Monday, Miller asked Walker and Fitzgerald for a new meeting “near the Illinois border.”  Walker dismissed the invitation as “ridiculous,” noting that his representatives have held numerous conversations with the missing Democrats. 

The governor is clearly attempting to discredit Miller, suggesting the Democratic leader is beholden “to union bosses in Washington.”  Since the Democrats left on Feb. 17, the Wisconsin standoff has set off a raging national debate on the role of public employee unions.  But most recent polls suggest Wisconsin’s newly elected Republican governor is losing political support, particularly among independent voters, for his proposal to dismantle union rights for state employees.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Wisconsin Protesters Vacate Capital After Judge's Orders

ABC News Radio(MADISON, Wis.) -- Pro-union protesters in Wisconsin left the state Capitol in Madison Thursday night for the first time in over two weeks after a judge ordered them to vacate the building.

Judge John Albert in Dane County, Wisconsin ruled that people are allowed to attend hearings at the Capitol and enter the building during normal business hours, but not to sleep there overnight when it normally is closed, according to ABC News affiliate WKOW in Madison, Wisconsin.

The judge also said the public will be allowed back inside when normal business hours resume at 8 a.m. Monday, prompting some protesters to claim a legal victory.

At least 100 protesters were in the building Thursday in opposition to proposals by Republicans that would roll back union rights for many public workers.

Republicans and Democrats are engaged in a two-week budget standoff that has paralyzed the Wisconsin state capitol and touched off a national debate on how best to deal with growing government debt.

Earlier Thursday, the state's Republican governor, Scott Walker, said layoff notices to at least 1,500 Wisconsin state workers would start going out as early as Friday if the state legislature doesn't pass a controversial "budget-repair bill" that calls for the stripping away of state employees' collective bargaining rights.

As Walker threatened layoffs, his colleagues in the state Senate filed a contempt order against 14 Democrats who fled the state and made it impossible for a new budget to pass.  Republicans hold a 19-14 majority in the body, but must have 20 members present to vote on Walker's proposal. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Missing Wisconsin Dems Immune from Legal, Political Penalties

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(MADISON, Wisc.) -- Fourteen Wisconsin Democrats who have fled the state to prevent a quorum inside the state Senate face few legal and political consequences for their actions despite the unprecedented and extended nature of their absence.

The lawmakers have been hiding out in an undisclosed location in Illinois since Thursday, saying it was the only way to block Gov. Scott Walker and Republican state legislators from rapidly approving a bill that would curb rights of state employee unions and trim members' benefits.

Republicans, who accused their peers of breaking legislative rules, shirking responsibility and manipulating the democratic process, had initially dispatched the State Patrol to round them up and bring them back.

The Wisconsin Senate needs 20 lawmakers present to hold a vote on the bill. But with only 19 Republican members, at least one of the 14 Democrats must also attend.

Now with the standoff showing no sign of abating -- and lawmakers in other states weigh whether to follow in the Wisconsin Democrats' footsteps -- experts say the absconding lawmakers' tactics are legal even if highly unusual.

The state constitution requires lawmakers to fulfill their duties to the best of their abilities and allows the legislature to "compel the attendance" of absent members to reach a quorum, though the documents do not spell out what types of compulsion can be used.

But the state constitution also prohibits lawmakers from being arrested during a legislative session, unless they're accused of "treason, felony or breach of the peace."

The "murkiness" of those two provisions, said one state Democratic aide, is why they fled, despite the knowledge that they couldn't be physically detained under the law. The jurisdiction of Wisconsin State Patrol ends at the state line.

In the meantime, the Democrats are continuing to urge Gov. Walker and Republicans, who resumed consideration of some legislative business Tuesday, to separate the non-fiscal provisions from the controversial budget bill and bring them up for an independent vote.

The last time state lawmakers fled the legislature to block a vote was in Texas in 2003, when 11 Democrats went to New Mexico to stall a GOP-sponsored redistricting plan. They returned one month later, after one of the 11 Democrats defected, returning to Texas to give Republicans the quorum needed to advance the bill, which ultimately passed.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Wisconsin Governor Says Dems Have 'Failed to Do Their Jobs'

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(MADISON, Wisc.) -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Sunday the Democratic state senators who fled the state to block a vote on his controversial budget bill have "failed to do their jobs," and he expects them to concede this week.

"If you want to participate in democracy, you've got to be in the arena, and the arena is right here in Madison, Wisconsin," Walker said on Fox News Sunday.

"My hope is that cooler minds will prevail and by some time earlier this coming week they'll show up for their job," Walker said. "Democracy is not about hiding out in another state. It's about showing up here in the capital and making the case there, and for us, we're willing to take this as long as it takes."

The bill, which would cut benefits for public employees and drastically reduce unions' collective bargaining powers, has sparked protests that stretched into a sixth day today. Union members and supporters have begun to arrive in both Madison and Green Bay, where a smaller pro-union rally is scheduled outside Packers Stadium.

More than 70,000 protestors descended on Wisconsin's capitol Saturday, many of them angry at Walker's bill, which has the backing of the Republican controlled state Senate.

But there were also supporters of Walker's bill, many of them bused in by Tea Party groups, and organizers said they would begin recall efforts against the 14 Democratic state senators who are hiding in Illinois and preventing the bill from coming to a vote on Tuesday.

Some Wisconsin doctors threw their support behind teachers protesting the Republican governor, saying they would write sick notes for teachers to skip work to demonstrate.

Wisconsin has a $137 million shortfall this year and $3.6 billion over the next two years.

Other governors facing similar budget crises are watching Wisconsin carefully. More than 40 states are facing a combined projected shortfall of $125 billion for the fiscal year of 2012. The hardest hit are California, facing a $25.5 billion gap, Texas at $13 billion, Illinois at $15 billion, New York at $9 billion and New Jersey at $10.5 billion.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Tea Party Descends on Wisconsin Protests

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(MADISON, Wisc.) -- Wisconsin Tea Party activists are weighing in on the ongoing state worker protests, bussing in picketers to counter protest and exploring measures to recall the Democratic senators that have fled to boycott the vote on Gov. Scott Walker's budget bill.

Madison police expected approximately 100,000 people to fill the square outside the capitol building Saturday as Tea Party members' voices were added to the chorus of dissent and the protests entered their fifth day.

Tea Party members are forming two exploratory committees to recall two of the Wisconsin Democrats that fled the state on Thursday to protest the vote on the certain-to-pass bill, which will drastically cut state worker benefits and eliminate union bargaining rights.

Gov. Walker told reporters Friday that he would not "allow protesters to drown out the voice of the taxpayers," adding that he had received 19,000 supportive e-mails this week and that a "quiet majority" of the state's residents are behind his plan.

Walker has been calling upon the Democrats to return and end their "theatrics."

Wisconsin has a $137 million shortfall this year and $3.6 billion over the next two years.

Other governors facing similar budget crises are watching Wisconsin carefully. More than 40 states are facing a combined projected shortfall of $125 billion for the fiscal year of 2012. The hardest hit are California, facing a $25.5 billion gap, Texas at $13 billion, Illinois at $15 billion, New York at $9 billion and New Jersey at $10.5 billion.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


As Protests Continue in Wisconsin, Obama Sides with Union Workers

Photo Courtesy - JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(MADISON, Wisc.) -- Thursday marked the third straight day of protests from people across the state of Wisconsin in opposition to a bill that could strip public sector employees of many of their collective bargaining rights. Teachers and union workers are vastly opposed to the proposal, which would also mandate increased contributions for their benefits. Tensions escalated to such a point on Thursday afternoon that 14 Democratic state lawmakers left the state in order to postpone action on the bill. They are staying at a hotel in Rockford, Illinois.

President Obama joined the fray of voices by saying, “Some of what I've heard coming out of Wisconsin, where you're just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain, generally seems like more of an assault on unions. And I think it's very important for us to understand that public employees, they're our neighbors, they're our friends,” in a Wednesday interview with WTMJ-TV.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday that while President Obama understands the needs and the challenges that governors face to deal with their own fiscal issues and the need to make tough budget decisions, “what he sees happening in Wisconsin, making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain, seems more like an assault on unions. “

“He doesn't see that as a good thing,” Carney said, adding that it is sometimes easy to paint public employees as “faceless bureaucrats,” but emphasized these people are teachers, nurses, policemen and firemen.

“The best way to deal with this is for people to address these problems by sitting down at the table to collaborate and work out a solution.”

The fracas all stems from the proposed budget of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. By projecting a $3.6 billion dollar deficit, he said cuts would have to be made.

Schools in 15 districts closed down on Thursday so that teachers could go and join other protesters, who had entirely filled the rotunda at the state capitol. Some classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison were also cancelled as a result of the demonstrations.

As of Thursday evening, there was no word on a planned return date for the legislators who had fled the state.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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