— MADISON, Wis. - Republicans pushed a provision stripping public employees of their collective bargaining rights through the state Senate Wednesday evening by separating it from Gov. Scott Walker's controversial budget bill.
The action, if it stand, would have the effect of rendering moot a Democratic attempt to keep the provision from passing the Senate. The vote in the Senate was 18-1. No Democrats were present.
All 14 Democrats had left the state to prevent passage of the overall budget bill in opposition to the collective bargaining rights.
The Senate is split 19-14 with Republicans in the majority. Because the union provision was part of a budget bill, Republicans in the Senate needed at least 20 senators present for a quorum.
By separating the anti-union measure from the budget bill, Republicans did not need 20 senators for a quorum.
Before the Senate floor vote, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald read the bill to a hastily created joint conference committee. Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, objected, saying the committee's meeting was in violation of the state's open meetings law. But Fitzgerald went ahead with the vote, which was seen live on WisconsinEye, and the measure was approved.
Senate Democrats reportedly were meeting to decide how to respond. Some argue that Senate Republicans were violating legislative rules with the vote.
The stand-alone measure would have to be approved by both the Senate and the Assembly, the lower chamber. The Assembly was not in session Wednesday and it was not clear that it could be convened until Thursday.
Stripping out the collective-bargaining provisions into a "non-fiscal" bill raises questions about the governor's and the Republicans' argument that the issue of collective bargaining rights is crucial to the budget.