Sunday, March 13, 2011

Status of the Wisconsin Protests

For weeks, the budget repair bill in Madison has been at an impasse. This bill, which has several controversial measures, has caused nearly a month of constant protests. Although there is a Republican majority in both houses of the legislature and a Republican governor, this bill has been stopped in the state Senate since 14 Democratic Senators fled the state, denying a quorum required by state law to pass any legislation that deals with fiscal matters.

The absence of the Democratic senators has been a focal point of criticism from the Republicans, who accuse them of abdicating their responsibilities and "not doing their job." The Democrats have responded by claiming that this tactic was the only way that they could delay the bill and provide time for public debate. They point to the hundreds of thousands of protesters as their constituents.

Last week, on Wednesday, March 10th, the Republicans overcame this impasse. By stripping out a large portion of the budget repair bill, they made the claim that since it was no longer fiscal, the no longer needed the quorum required to pass the bill. Within less than two hours, a special committee approved the new version of the bill, and the Senate voted on and passed it.

In response, thanks to a rapid spread of this information through social media, 5-8,00 protesters descended upon the capitol. Additionally, Democrats allege that the rapid pace of the Republican action violated a state open meeting law, and the next day lawsuits were filed against this bill and that the bill still contained fiscal matters. The first hearings on that lawsuit will be this Wednesday, March 16th.

Then, on Thursday, March 11th, the state Assembly passed the revised version of the bill, which was signed on Friday morning by governor Walker. Because of the ongoing legal challenges, Secretary of State Doug La Follette will not publish the bill until March 25th, the latest date allowed by law.

This Saturday, the largest protest yet occurred in Madison. Although early reports suggested numbers up to 200,000, the final police estimate of the crowd was 85-100,000. As part of the protests, 40 tractors from around the state paraded around the capitol square. In the afternoon, the 14 Democratic Senators returned to a hero's welcome.

Although the bill has passed, the battle is still ongoing. Already, there are a total of 16 recalls in progress on state senators, including 8 Democrats and 8 Republicans. Additionally, although Governor Walker must serve a full year before becoming eligible for recall, several organizations have started collecting recall "pledges" so that as soon as he is eligible, the recall can happen very quickly. The currently have 152,449 pledges compared to the total 540,206 signatures required for recall.

Ultimately, then, there are still two potential roadblocks for the Republican legislation. There is the court case alleging that the procedures used to pass the bill broke state law, and there are the recall efforts that may change the balance of power. Although these recalls are unlikely to happen in time to effect this bill, they have the potential to block any similar measures proposed at a later date.

If the lawsuit is unsuccessful, the bill will be published on March 25th and become law.

Written by Adam M. Briska

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