Democratic Lawmakers Stall Vote in Wisconsin, Protesters Gather at Capitol

BY Lauren Knapp  February 17, 2011 at 3:17 PM EDT

Protesters fill the Wisconsin State Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday, demonstrating against Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to eliminate collective bargaining rights for many state workers. Mark Hirsch/Getty Images

(View a slide show of the protests.)

Updated 3:17 p.m. ET | Democratic Wisconsin state Sen. John Erpenbach told The Associated Press that he and 13 more Democratic lawmakers have left the state, but he would not say where.

“Senate Republicans can’t vote on the bill unless at least one Democrat is present,” the AP reported. “Police could be dispatched to retrieve them, but it was unclear if they would have the authority to cross state lines.”

Original post 1:53 p.m. ET | Wisconsin police officers are looking for Democratic lawmakers who left the Capitol Thursday before a scheduled vote on a bill that would strip state workers of their collective bargaining rights.

The lawmakers were ordered to attend the vote, but when no Democrats showed up for the Thursday morning session, the Senate was forced to suspend the proceedings.

The bill, introduced by newly elected Republican Gov. Scott Walker, moved to the Senate and Assembly after the state Legislature’s budget committee passed it late Wednesday night. State Senate Republicans claimed to have the votes to pass in both the Senate and the Assembly Thursday before they moved to adjourn in the late morning, after senate Democrats were said to have left Madison.

Thousands gathered at the Capitol early Thursday for a third day of protests, crowding the building’s hallways. Many shouted “kill the bill!” and could be heard during the proceedings.

Demonstrators are also gathering around Wisconsin. Minnesota Public Radio filed a report on the 800 students who left classes at La Crosse High School to protest on Wednesday.


Wisconsin is not the only Midwestern state considering eliminating collective bargaining rights.

In Ohio, a bill proposed by Republican State Sen. Shannon Jones would eliminate the state’s 30-year-old collective bargaining law. Protests have been mounting over the past two weeks as public employees including firefighters and police officers crowded the Senate hearing room and overflowed into the Statehouse Atrium and Rotunda.

On Thursday, thousands of protesters, who had recently learned that Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich had called a police officer an “idiot” for being given a 2008 traffic ticket, gathered at the Capitol. They wore red in the hopes of dispelling the assumption that most union workers are Democrats.

For an overview of this week’s Wisconsin protests over the plan to strip government workers of their bargaining rights, listen to this week’s reports from Wisconsin Public Radio or read this article from WBEZ in Chicago.

For more immediate coverage, read a live blog of Thursday’s events or watch the Wisconsin Senate on Wisconsin Eye.

Wisconsin Public Television’s ‘Here and Now’ interviewed several players on both sides of the debate on Friday.

Bryan Kennedy, president of the American Federation of Teachers Union characterized the governor’s actions as “a big government power grab.” He said, “[The governor] is dictating what the terms and conditions are and then telling the workers sit down, shut up and do what you’re told. By the way, if you speak up at all, you’re going to be terminated. We’re taking aware your rights entirely.”

Watch the full interview with Frederica Freyberg below:

Watch the full episode. See more Here and Now.

Wisconsin state Sen. Luther Olsen, a Republican, is the vice chair of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee and said the governor is prepared for the worst. “He’d be a fool not to be prepared, because he has a responsibility to keep government running, and you can’t just shut your eyes to that fact,” he said.

Watch the full interview with Frederica Freyberg below:

Watch the full episode. See more Here and Now.

Read the full bill below:

JR1SB-11