Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) [official website] on Friday signed legislation [text, PDF] limiting the collective bargaining rights of state employees, ending a three-week stalemate over the issue. The bill requires state employees to contribute a percentage of their salaries to their pension and health care premiums, and eliminates the ability of public employee union members to collectively negotiate anything but wage increases, which would be capped by the Consumer Price Index. The legislation is an amended version of SB 11 [text, PDF], a fiscal proposal by Walker which sparked intense nationwide legal and political controversy over provisions limiting the collective bargaining rights of state workers. The controversy deepened when the 14 Democrats of the state Senate left the state in order to deny the Republican majority the required quorum to pass a budget item. The amended legislation purports to have removed the budget elements [WP report] of SB 11, leaving only the provisions affecting collective bargaining rights and requiring employee payments into pension and health benefits, allowing the Senate to vote on it without the 14 Democrats present. The legislation was passed by the State Legislature [official website] on Thursday with a vote of 53-42 in the Assembly and 18-1 in the Senate. The procedure used to pass the bill has already faced a challenge [complaint, PDF] in state court under the Open Meeting Law [Wis. Stat. § 19.81-19.98], which requires that a 24-hour public notice be given for public meetings. Plaintiffs also alleged that the bill still contained fiscal provisions requiring the three-fifths quorum denied in the Democrats' absence. The judge denied the requested restraining order [Journal Sentinel report] and ordered further hearings on March 16.
The provisions limiting bargaining rights incensed unions and their supporters, sparking protests which have been ongoing since February 15, when SB 11 was introduced to address the state's $3.6 billion deficit. Earlier this month, a Wisconsin judge ruled that the state capitol building must remain open [JURIST report] to the public during business hours, despite an attempt to close the building to protesters who had occupied it as part of a protest against the proposed restrictions on collective bargaining. The Wisconsin State Employees Union Council 24 (WSUE) [advocacy website] filed the petition earlier in the day in reaction to Walker ordering the capitol building closed and removing protesters.