A new state bill proposed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has sent Democratic senators into hiding to avoid making quorum necessary for a vote and triggered demonstrations by thousands of people outside the state capital.
The bill would require all state workers to use 5.8 percent of their pay for their pension plans and to pay for 12.6 percent of their healthcare premiums, up from around six percent currently. It would also limit the ability of government employees to negotiate on the issue of pay. Walker argues that the bill is a necessary measure in the face of a projected $137 million shortfall for the current fiscal year and an estimated $3 billion deficit within the next two years.
Protests against the bill started on Feb. 15 and have continued since. Almost completely peaceful, police in Madison estimated on Feb. 20 that 8,000 people were protesting the bill within the capital building itself and 60,000 more protested outside. There have also been counter-protests in favor of the bill.
Democratic senators left the state to prevent Republicans forcing a vote. Walker says he has enough votes to guarantee passage of a bill but will be unable to do so without more senators present. Republicans called for law enforcement to find the senators if still in the state. They are currently in Illinois.
Senior Anna Emmerling, who comes from Wisconsin, was supportive of the senators’ decisions.
“I think that it is the most genius way to prevent a vote,” she said. “It’s better than a filibuster.”
Emmerling was supportive overall of the protests.
“As far as the demonstrations go, it’s really amazing because you really do have both sides represented,” she said. “It’s really a great show of first amendment rights.”
Despite the protests, Walker says that most of the state’s residents support his efforts to save money. Those in favor of the bill are arguing that public spending is excessive and that recent cuts in benefits in the private and industrial sectors necessitate cuts in the public sector as well. Supporters of the bill argue they themselves have also had to make sacrifices.
Democrats have said they will return to the state to vote if restrictions on unions are removed.
Information from this article was gathered from www.nytimes.com, www.cnbc.com and www.jsonline.com.