The state Senate passed a right-to-work bill over impassioned pleas from Democratic senators and cries of “shame” from gallery onlookers Wednesday at the state Capitol.
The body voted 17-15 in favor of the measure mostly along party lines with state Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, the lone Republican voting against.
Debate on the proposed right-to-work bill began earlier in the afternoon while approximately 2,000 protesters descended on the Capitol for the second straight day to demonstrate against the legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, defended the bill he introduced, framing it as an economic boost for the state.
“There has been an underlying movement that we needed something that would be dynamic and put us in a more competitive place with the Midwest and the nation,” Fitzgerald said in a press conference immediately following the vote.
Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, attacked the bill, saying it will increase the budget deficit and that Republicans are “ignoring people who have said this bill is wrong for Wisconsin.”
“You have written a dark chapter in the history of the state,” Shilling said of Republicans.
The debate comes on the heels of a rushed end to a public hearing Tuesday. Senate Labor and Government Oversight Committee Chair Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, ended the meeting early and called a hectic vote on the proposal, citing as a “credible threat” a report that said Service Employees International Union members would stage a demonstration.
The events at Tuesday’s public hearing dominated the discussion for much of the first three hours, as Democrats condemned the decision to end the meeting abruptly.
State Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, a labor committee member, said he was unable to vote amidst the chaos and called for a motion to return the bill to committee.
“It is up to us to go back to the democratic process and make sure everyone is heard,” Larson said while introducing the motion. “Have we lost ability to hear from the public? Are we that afraid?”
Nass defended his decision to end the hearing early.
“I believed the threat to be credible,” he said, adding that a protester tried to accost him as the committee members filed out of the hearing room.
Larson’s motion to return the bill to committee failed by a vote of 18-14 Wednesday.
The debate then moved into discussion of several amendments presented by Senate Democrats, all of which failed or were tabled, on party line votes.
At least five members of the gallery were removed for making outbursts against the proposed bill, with one protester calling it a “sham” and “undemocratic.”
The protest also raged on outside chambers. A rally organized by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations featured speeches from labor leaders and politicians.
The protesters have remained at the Capitol through the Senate session, chanting refrains of “let us in” and “this is our house” that were audible even within the Senate chambers.
Sergio Gonzalez, a member of the TAA at UW-Madison, expressed hope while protesting at the Capitol that some Republicans would vote against the bill but acknowledged this was unlikely.
“It’s hard to believe that you could be surprised after what happened in 2011, but this is even worse,” Gonzalez said, referencing protests in response to Act 10, which opposed a law that stripped away collective bargaining rights from public sector unions.
The bill will now move to the Assembly, who are expected to announce a timeline for taking up the bill early next week. Should the measure pass the lower house, it will move to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk for approval.
Walker has indicated he will sign the bill should it pass.
Negassi Tesfamichael contributed to this article.