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Wisconsin governor signs bill restricting public workers' rights

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Wisconsin governor signs bargaining bill
  • A bill curtailing the bargaining rights of most state workers is signed into law
  • The signing follows weeks of protests
  • Democrats called the bill an attack on worker rights

Madison, Wisconsin (CNN) -- A contentious political battle that brought thousands to the state Capitol drew to a close Friday as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed into law a bill that curbs the bargaining rights of most state workers.

"We were elected to make tough decisions," Walker told reporters, lauding his administration's efforts to prevent employee layoffs and tax increases. "We gave local governments the tools they need to balance their budgets."

Republicans cleared a final hurdle to the controversial proposal Thursday, passing the bill one day after the state's GOP-controlled Senate approved an amended version of the measure, despite the absence of 14 Democratic senators who fled the state to prevent a necessary quorum of 20 votes.

The amended bill stripped the spending components out of the original proposal, enabling lawmakers to pass the measure with fewer votes.

Cries of "Shame, shame, shame!" filled the Capitol building after the Assembly vote.

The weeks-long standoff reached a fever pitch Thursday after a spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the leader received two death threats that detailed the ways in which the writer claimed Fitzgerald would be killed.

Demonstrators, some of whom spent nights sleeping inside the Capitol rotunda in protest, had blocked entrances to the state legislature Thursday, chanting "Let us in" as police struggled to keep order. Lawmakers were later able to access the building through the one open entrance.

Walker consistently defended the bill, which allows the state to avoid property tax increases and public-sector layoffs while trying to balance the budget.

Senate Democrats called the bill an attack on worker rights, filing a complaint with the Dane County District Attorney's Office, claiming the Senate's vote violated Wisconsin's Open Meetings Law.

GOP lawmakers say the bill's passage will help Wisconsin close a $137 million budget shortfall with a plan that requires public workers, with the exception of police and firefighters, to cover more of their retirement plan contributions and health care premiums.

Raises would be tied to the rate of inflation, unless state voters approve an exception. The legislation also requires unions to hold a new certification vote every year, and unions would no longer be allowed to collect dues from workers' paychecks.

Unions mobilized their supporters to oppose the bill, drawing tens of thousands of people to rallies opposing Walker and supporting the fugitive Democrats.

By Thursday evening, at least one Democrat -- Sen. Jim Holperin -- had returned to his home state.

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