Wisconsin Legislature To Take Up Anti-Public Union Budget Today, As School Closings Mount

February 17, 2011 6:17 a.m.

Thursday is a big day for the budget fight in Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker has proposed a plan that would strip public employees of most collective bargaining rights, with the full legislature set to take it up today. Meanwhile, the protests against the bill are continuing to spread — with school closings in a lot of areas around the state.

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee passed the proposal just before midnight, following a debate that began at 7:45 p.m., on a party-line vote of 12-4. The state Senate is now set to take up the bill later on Thursday, and the Assembly could soon follow.

In the face of the massive protests that have erupted against the bill, the committee did make some changes:

The changes the committee adopted would require all local governments to create civil-service systems similar to the one for the state. It would also allow limited-term employees to keep their benefits. Some limited-term employees have worked for the state for years, and the original version of the bill would have taken away all their health care coverage and retirement benefits.

Teachers have been calling in sick in large numbers for days — so much so as to shut down schools — and many of the same teachers are attending the protests in Madison. What began in Madison, has expanded to other districts across the state. Schools are closed again in Madison Thursday, as well as in other towns around Dane County. In western Wisconsin, schools have also closed in the La Crosse area. And other schools have closed in the Milwaukee area. No schools have closed in Milwaukee itself, but teacher absences are up above normal.

Under Walker’s plan, as TPM has reported, most state workers would no longer be able to negotiate for better pensions or health benefits or anything other than higher salaries, which couldn’t rise at a quicker pace than the Consumer Price Index. Walker and state Republican leaders have said the plan is necessary to deal with the state’s budget shortfall.

According to the Associated Press: “The proposal would effectively remove unions’ right to negotiate in any meaningful way. Local law enforcement and fire employees, as well as state troopers and inspectors would be exempt.”

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