In the wee hours of Friday morning, the Wisconsin Assembly passed the controversial Budget Repair Bill (AB11) on a 51-17 vote. But it wasn’t pretty, and Assembly Democrats are exploring whether their Republican counterparts violated rules and laws to do it.
The bill was called for its third and final reading so abruptly that only 13 out of 37 Democrats were able to cast their votes. Four Republican lawmakers – Dean Kaufert (Neenah), Lee Nerison (Westby), Richard Spanbauer (Oshkosh) and Travis Tranel (Cuba City) – voted against the measure.
Follow this link to watch the action. Please scroll down to 02.25.11 Assembly Floor Session and Vote (Part 7/7).
The vote came after only four Democrats had spoken to the entire bill, including Oshkosh Rep. Gordon Hintz.
“The fundamental reason for this debate is for history to get these rights, and for the people who have died for these rights,” he said. “Never underestimate the will of people whose backs are up against the wall. And all this bill does is remove rights, not extend them.”
After three more Democrat speakers, Republican leadership suddenly demanded the vote. Before the Democrats could even register what had happened, the vote was done and the bill was passed. As their Republican colleagues filed out of the chamber, Democrats chanted “Shame, shame, shame.”
To say the Assembly Democrats were not happy with the outcome is an understatement. Rep. Corey Masonaddressed the crowd gathered in the Capitol rotunda following the vote.
“We believe they took a vote in violation of the rules and law,” Mason said. “They are so desperate to take away the worker’s rights that they will do anything to pass this bill.”
He added that his caucus is proud of the protesters who have remained in the Capitol for more than eight days, and thanked them.
The bill still needs to be voted on in the State Senate, still in a holding pattern until a single Democratic Senator to returns, creating a quorum for the fiscal vote. However, the Wisconsin 14, as the fugitive Senators have now become known, remain in Illinois.
This morning, Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) said he wasn’t surprised by the vote, but had gone to bed thinking the Assembly would allow debate until morning.
“The big surprise was the four Republicans who voted with the Democrats,” Larson said. “I have admiration that they stood up and did that. The other surprise was the way the Republicans did the vote, with a roll call finished in seconds. What is ironic is the Republicans keep telling the us (the Wisconsin 14) to come back and vote, when they didn’t even let the Democrats who were there vote.”
Larson said his caucus is waiting for some brave Republican Senators to break the impasse before they come home.
“Tens of thousands of people have spoken out; we’ve had hundreds of hours of testimony about how this affects the lives of the people. And then there are the Trojan horses in the bill. Until it is disposed of, this is the worst bill in the history of Wisconsin.”
The loss of $165 million due to a window closing on bond refinancing isn’t enough to sway Larson, or the rest of the Wisconsin 14, to return. “We’re waiting on the Legislative Fiscal Bureau to see if it is required, but I think it is a typical scare tactic.”
On Walker’s threat to start laying off 1,500 state employees on March 1 if the bill doesn’t pass, Larson says this, too, is a scare tactic.
“He has done this before,” Larson said, recalling his time on the Milwaukee County Board while Walker was County Executive. “He used it before to get his way, using people’s emotions and livelihoods as a poker chip. But he gave away his position in Milwaukee when he went on a radio show and said it was just a tactic.”
Larson said there are solutions to the budget deficit, even though he feels the deficit was created by Walker’s $117 million tax cuts to special interests.
“We could rescind those tax cuts and solve this right away.”
Excerpts from the floor
The amendment process went on throughout Thursday with 100 pieces authored by Democrats ranging from attempts to reclassify various public employees to “public safety” status to save their bargaining rights, requiring any funds from the sale of state power plants to be placed in the state’s segregated transportation fund and even requiring the bill be put up for a statewide referendum. The Democrats were allowed to present 38 of them and each one was tabled on party line votes, many without even being read by the sponsors.
By late evening, the mood in the chamber was surly. Republicans pushed the Democrats – the Democrats would say tricked – to stop the amendment process by promising the minority a chance of having three speakers speak to the bill before it was engrossed (a step that then leads to the debate period on the bill). However, the Republicans sped through the vote for engrossment, as Democrats ran back to their desks and shouted to be heard by the Speaker Pro Tempore.
After an hour of heated discussion to determine if the above deal was actually made, the Republicans allowed debate on the entire bill to begin. Rep. Cullen (D-Milwaukee) started the process, reading emails from constituents who voted for Walker but regretted that decision.
“My distain is so great,” he read, “I will never vote for him again. This is bad for Wisconsin, bad of kids, bad for schools, bad for the poor and bad for education.”
He was followed by Robin Vos (R-Rochester) the Assembly Co-Chair of the Joint Finance Committee. In what was the first time a Republican addressed the issue, Vos explained that the Democrats had been telling lies and myths about the bill and the Republican’s motives.
He explained there had been compromise on the bill, since the JFC added back health care coverage to state limited term employees and the return of the grievance process.
Then he clicked off a number of items he said were untrue in the Democrat’s talking points.
On not enough public input: “From a historical prospective this bill was introduced 3 weeks ago before this vote. But our consitution (Wisconsin’s) went from presentation to vote in seven weeks and that was without the Internet and email. We have had plenty of time for input.”
“We had a public hearing (in the JFC), something the minority party didn’t receive two years ago when you voted for a $2 billion tax increase. It was the longest JFC hearing on record. We’ve had the longest floor debate, we have heard the people in the Capitol.”
On the removal of collective bargaining: “False. Collective bargaining remains, we have not stripped that out.”
He noted that 12 states have no collective bargaining for employees while 7 others have more limited bargaining than the Wisconsin proposal.
“36 percent of all government workers in the nation belong to a union, which means 64 percent of public employees don’t and they still have health insurance, pensions and vacations. They have the things that hyperbole and lies way will be taken away,” Vos said.
He added that salaries and benefits of public employees make up 60 percent of the state budget and Medicaid eats up most of the remainder. If changes were not made to those two areas there would be nothing for education, transportation or other services.
On political payback: Vos said it was a specious argument, considering the Democrats had alternated between describing the GOP as either stupid for not understanding what they were doing or they were simply puppets of the Koch brothers.
On the Democrats argument there is no budget crisis: Here Vos was incredulous.
“How can you say that? That is the boldest lie in this debate. You think that somehow we want to do all this because we have a surplus,” Vos asked. “We’re broke. We’re $140 million in the hold this year. Medicaid is $153 million short. We are in a hole.”
At that point, the Democrats interrupted Vos’ debate time and asked for a recess on the grounds of “sleep deprivation.” Rep. Molpeske (D-Stevens Point) argued that they body had been in session for over 60 hours and members with medical issues were suffering from lack of sleep. He even slurred and stumbled in his speech, trying to say the word “hallucinations.”
But the GOP refused to budge, as Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha) explained he had been awake for the entire session and had presided over the body for all but five of those hours.
“I don’t need a recess,” he said and the debate moved on.
But not for long. After Vos resumed, then finished, his remarks Majority Leader Scott Suder (R-Abbottsford) called for a third reading and final vote. This had been a tactic used by the Republican side throughout the session which began on Tuesday morning.
This was brought to a stop after Democrat Leader Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) finally received the attention of the Speaker Pro Tempore. Barca was not pleased for the repeated attempts and he immediately called for the removal of the Speaker Pro Tempore.
“It is pretty interesting that this is what democracy looks like from people who want to trample on worker’s rights,” Barca said. “If this is how you treat your colleagues, this is really what corruption looks like.”
He thanked the cameras from Wisconsin Eye for recording the behavior of the Republicans and said their actions are exactly why Wisconsin workers need collective bargaining and representation.
Other Democrats piled on the criticism of Kramer, the Republican leadership and the overt attempt to take away their voice.
“There is no excuse for this,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison). “This is and intentional taking away of the voice of the minority. The voice of the people.”
After a discussion between the Democrat and Republican leaders, debate resumed with four more Democrats rising to argue their points.
During a speech by Rep. Gary Hebl, his colleague Rep. Fred Clark rose to ask Kramer how many members were still waiting to speak. Kramer noted 15 more and Clark asked if those 15 had Kramer’s word they would all get their chance.
Kramer said no and added that the speakers were starting to repeat themselves.
Soon after that exchange, Republicans started to return to the chamber and took their seats, a possible signal that something was up.
When Hebl yielded the floor, Republicans immediately invoked Assembly Rule 71(1), which reads, ”When a proposal is under consideration, any member who obtains the floor may move that debate on the proposal be ended. Any such motion shall be seconded by at least 15 members, may not be debated, and is decided by a roll call vote.”
As soon as that occurred, Kramer called for the reading, which the chief clerk read the title and short description of AB11 at a speed only seen at farm auctions. By the time the Democrats and some Republicans realized what was happening, the vote had been called and finalized. It took less than a minute to end debate and vote on the bill that had been under fire for over a week.
Assembly Democrats say they will review the procedure that led to an abrupt final vote and possibly seek legal redress.
“Clearly there was improper actions taken and we will explore how far that went and whether it does rise to the nature of actually being illegal,” Barca said after the Dems met in caucus.
Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) released a statement early Friday morning explaining what happened on the floor.
“This is one of the toughest votes this body has taken in decades. But we are, without question, in one of the toughest economic times our state has ever seen,” he said. “After the longest debate in the history of this body, we took the necessary steps we had to get Wisconsin’s fiscal house in order. We did it in the way voters in November told us to, without raising taxes.