At least two dozen protesters spent the night just outside the Wisconsin state Assembly chamber in anticipation of a late Thursday morning vote on explosive union rights legislation that passed the Senate after Republicans outmaneuvered their missing Democratic counterparts and pushed through the bill.
The extraordinary turn of events late Wednesday set up Thursday’s perfunctory vote on the measure that would strip nearly all collective bargaining rights from most public workers. Once the bill passes the Assembly, it heads to Republican Gov. Scott Walker for his signature.
Within hours of the Senate passing the bill, a crowd of hundreds of protesters grew to about 7,000 in the Capitol, a crowd as large as any seen inside the building in three weeks of demonstrations.
“The whole world is watching!” protesters shouted as they pressed up against the heavily guarded entrance to the Senate chamber.
Most protesters left by midnight–many were expected back Thursday for a rally preceding the Assembly vote–but dozens of others spent the night in the Capitol corridors, some sleeping on the marble floor with no padding. State officials said no attempts would be made to force them to leave.
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The bill had been stymied after all 14 Senate Democrats fled to Illinois three weeks ago, preventing the chamber from having enough members present to pass it. Walker introduced it to plug a $137 million budget shortfall.
The Senate requires a quorum of 20 to take up any measures that spend money. But a special committee of lawmakers from the Senate and Assembly voted late Wednesday afternoon to take all the spending measures out of the legislation and the Senate approved it minutes later, 18-1.
Republican Sen. Dale Schultz cast the lone no vote.