Madison – After three hours of debate, the Republican-controlled state Assembly Thursday passed the new, stripped-down version of the Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill by a 53-42 vote, and then immediately adjourned.
Members of the public in the galleries, who had been mostly quiet throughout the debate on the measure, erupted in anger, once again shouting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” at the backs of Republicans as they calmly left the chambers.
Democrats remained, some joining in the chants and some shouting out the numbers of Assembly rules they believed had been ignored or vacated.
When it came, the vote happened so fast that many in the Assembly chambers were not even aware that it had taken place until Democrats began leaping to their feet and shouting "No! No!"
The measure approved by the Assembly will eliminate most collective bargaining rights for public employees. It also will require them to pay more toward pension and health care costs.
Pandemonium reigned outside the chambers as news of the vote spread in an instant. Cordons of police officers three deep kept back protesters from the second floor of the West Wing, where the chambers are located.
But the rest of the Capitol was packed with people, and the thunder of angry voices was deafening.
Thousands of people screamed "Shame!" and "Who's house? Our house!" and other slogans throughout the proceedings, then redoubled their volume once the vote was taken.
The noise was so deafening that two dozen officers who held back the group all were wearing earplugs. One protester had a bullhorn while drums were beating to the chants of the protesters.
Most Republican lawmakers quickly left the Capitol after the vote.
Democrats outraged by actions
“We weren’t surprised at what happened, and we continue to be disappointed,” said Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Whitefish Bay). “They seem to have no conscience or sense of what rightness is – listening to democracy and the voice of the minority.
“It’s been just trounced over and over again.”
Pasch said Republicans in procedure had violated Assembly Rule 71, which specifies how the speaker can end debate. A motion is needed to end debate; 15 members must second the motion; then there is a roll call vote. None of that occurred before the call for vote, Pasch said.
“They just ignored that, and they just rushed that vote through,” Pasch said. “We’ve heard the speaker pro tem say before that he could do whatever he wants. I find that just unmitigated arrogance.”
Pasch was one of more than 20 Democrats in the queue still waiting to speak when the vote took place.
GOP lawmaker says changes are overdue
Republicans were not available for comment after the vote, but Rep. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown) quickly issued a statement of the party’s position.
“This bill makes critical changes to government employee pension and health insurance contributions, as well as important collective bargaining changes,” said Knodl, whose district includes Menomonee Falls. “I understand the need that a lot of unionized public employees feel for collective bargaining, but the union bosses have gotten so out of control that the benefits being bargained for – and the grievances and lawsuits that have resulted – are absolutely outrageous and are coming at the expense of K-12 education in Wisconsin. That is unacceptable.”
The Assembly had convened at about 12:30 p.m. – about an hour and a half after it was scheduled to – and after the usual prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance the house was greeted with its first motion: that the Rev. Jesse Jackson be allowed to say an additional prayer.
After a brief procedural debate, the motion passed and Jackson did deliver his prayer, but only after asking lawmakers to join hands across their aisles. They did, and it was perhaps the last moment of unity the body would see for the duration of the session.
Barca attempts to oust speaker
As the session officially opened for introduction of business, Democratic Rep. Peter Barca, the minority leader, immediately called for a motion to remove Republican Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald for violations of the law and house rules. An acrimonious debate followed for the next 90 minutes before the motion was defeated along party lines.
The Republicans were "cheating the people of Wisconsin of their democracy," Barca declared. "This is a mockery of our democracy!"
Barca accused the majority party of cutting off access to the Capitol to the people and of curtailing debate on the budget repair bill by adopting the new Senate version without discussion.
But Fitzgerald countered that there had been plenty of debate and discussion on the measure.
"There's not a person in this country who doesn't know what's in this bill," he said. "In 61 hours of debate, I did not see one amendment that was going to balance the budget. The light of day has been shown on this bill. It's been three weeks.
"This bill will be voted on in the light of day. And it will pass."
Heated debate on the measure
Tamara Grigsby (D-18th) said that she had for the first time since the debate began three weeks ago, she was moved to tears by the sight of people being forcibly removed from the Capitol.
"You have disgraced this body time and time and time again, and it is hard to watch it without getting emotional,” she scolded Republicans.
“You will disgrace the entire state of Wisconsin," she said. "The entire world is watching you. The entire world is watching you today."
Robin Vos (R-63rd) offered a conciliatory tone, saying that he believed the Democrats across the aisle to his right were as honest and firm in their convictions and beliefs as were Republicans.
But he was unmoved by the Democrats' accusations of unfairness, insisting that it was the Republicans who were being fair to the public by forcing the issue of adopting a balanced budget
"We will show to the people of Wisconsin and the people of our country that we are not afraid to do what it takes," he said.
Protests started early Thursday
Before the doors of the Capitol were opened Thursday, two angry groups vented their frustrations in loud fashion, a large and growing crowd outside and a smaller but even more furious one inside.
These were the protesters who had spent the night in the building, refusing an order to vacate. Police allowed them to stay, but as members of the Assembly began to gather, the crowd of protesters moved from the Rotunda to the entrance to the Assembly chambers and did their best to block it.
Screaming “Shame, shame, shame!” at Republican representatives, the group did effectively slow down the vote, but only for a short time. Police officers began to remove them by force at about the same time the Capitol doors were opened.
Earlier in the day, all entry to the Capitol through its main doors was barred. Even Madison Police Chief Noble Wray was denied entry to the building.
Knodl was turned away and told he would have to enter through a tunnel leading under Capitol Square from the nearby Risser Building.
Knodl escorted three Patch editors through the heavy security at the Risser entrance, saying they were temporarily attached to his staff. Along with aides, the group was finally escorted by police through the tunnel and into the Capitol.
The convening of the Assembly was postponed until noon, and by 11:30 a.m. most representatives had made their way into the chambers.