It was pretty clear last night what the outcome of today’s Assembly session vote will be, considering there are 58 Republican representatives in the 95 member body, the conference bill will pass.
The final vote was 53-42, which was immediately followed by the Republicans adjourning the session until March 15.
Shouts of “Shame” and “Recall” are again rising from the Capitol, as GOP members left the chamber under heavy guard. Democrats were cheered as they exited the Assembly room.
Early in the day the chaos in the Capitol was the story. Last night following the vote of the bi-partisan committee, where Rep. Peter Barca, (D-Kenosha) was the sole voice of the minority, and the Senate passage of the revised bill, the public stormed the building and occupied it overnight.
This morning at 9 a.m. the crowds outside were light and the rotunda was quiet. Except for a protester with a broom cleaning up, there was no activity at all.
But at 10, it is not an exaggeration to say all hell broke loose. Protesters who had holed up in the Assembly chamber vestibule were asked to leave. Those who agreed were escorted out by police; those who choose to peacefully resist were carried or dragged from the room.
Protesters chanted “Shame,” “This is what a police state looks like,” and attempted to engage with the police, reminding them that they, too, are public employees.
But that was not the end of the intrigue. The Assembly session scheduled for 11 a.m. was delayed as the doors to the chamber were locked.The Democrat caucus was prepared, showing up at the doors 5 minutes early, only to be greeted by locked doors and dimmed lights.
Rep. Andy Jorgensen (D-Fort Atkinson) attempted to unlock the doors, trying every key on his ring, to no avail. Other Democrats demand entrance and called the lock out at travesty.
A trio of Democrat representatives, Sandy Pasch (Whitefish Bay), Donna Seidel (Wausau) and Christine Sinicki (Milwaukee) shared the opinion that the lock-out was outrageous. They said this would not stop them and that democracy is not optional in Wisconsin.
David Cullen (D-Milwaukee) was livid. “This is America and we don’t do this here. This is a stain on the state of Wisconsin. If we’re open for business, this is not the best publicity.”
Cullen and Rep. Elizabeth Coggs (D-Milwaukee) said they had to climb through windows of friendly senators to enter the building and get to their offices. They said the capitol lock down for “security purposes” was unconstitutional and a violation of the people’s rights , including their own. Cullen said police told him the order to not let Democratss in was coming from the second floor, an implication that the Department of Administration was calling the shots.
Rep. Leon Young (D-Milwaukee) admitted that his caucus’s tactic has been to delay the bill and was proud of the turnout from the public in helping them do so. “This has allowed the public to see what is really in this bill.”
When the doors finally opened 30 minutes later, the session remained delayed as Republicans either remained in the offices or struggled to get into the building.
Following a meeting of the Republican and Democrat leadership, it was agreed that there would be two hours of debate on the conference committee bill, but no amendments per parliamentary rules, then a vote.
Democrat Caucus Chair Kelda Helan Roys (Madison) told reporters following the leadership meeting that the GOP has made it clear that “obviously there is not going to be a clean process on this bill, they are not going to follow the law and they are not going to follow the rules.”
But more drama ensued. Rev. Jesse Jackson arrived at the building, posing for pictures with Democrat representatives and the public. When Rep. Joe Parisi (D-Madison) made a motion to allow Jackson to offer a prayer to the body, it was met with an objection by Rep. Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford). After some procedural maneuvers and a vote to go into a regular session, Jackson asked the members to join hands and pray for tolerance and cooperation.
When debate finally began, it focused on removing Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) on the charge that he violated the open meetings law when he allowed the conference committee meeting to occur without 24 hour notice. Barca has filed a complaint with the Dane County District Attorney as to the illegality of that meeting.
Barca returned to his familiar refrain of calling the actions of the GOP “illegal, reprehensible and immoral.” He reminded the body that the Speaker represents the entire body, not just the majority and his lawlessness was reason enough to remove him from his post. But with a GOP majority, the argument was moot, as Fitzgerald was retained as the speaker.
Fitzgerald in his defense cited the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the Legislative Council and other non-partisan bureaus in the capitol who ruled that the actions on Wednesday night were legal. And he explained the caution Capitol police and the Department of Administration for implementing “security procedures” of locking down the building and scanning people as they entered.
“This is an email received in my office that threatens the life of me and my family. Others have received this too,” he said. “This email says they are going to put a pretty little bullet it my head.”
The Department of Justice has confirmed they are investigating threats against members of the Republican caucus, but have not released any details of the threats.
During the remaining time the Democrats had for debate, they questioned whether the bill actually had the fiscal portions removed – citing an opinion by a Dane County corporation counsel that the bill allows millions to be lapsed to the general fund; changes income tax credits to income tax deductions, and decreases an appropriation to the state Earned Income Credit.
Most notably, this non-fiscal bill may contain rules that modify, restrict or eliminate assistance eligibility or reduces income levels for medical assistance. If it does make those changes, the Democrats allege that the conference bill was illegally voted on by the Senate, since it did not have the necessary 3/5 quorum for fiscal votes.
Watch for more legal challenges to be filed, look for protests to continue.