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Democratic senators greeted by cheering crowds in Wisconsin

By the CNN Wire Staff
Democratic state senators greet supporters as they march around the Capitol with protesters on Saturday in Madison.
Democratic state senators greet supporters as they march around the Capitol with protesters on Saturday in Madison.
  • Protesters crowd the state Capitol to welcome the senators home
  • The demonstration comes one day after a bill curtailing bargaining rights is signed into law
  • A state senator vows to continue the fight

(CNN) -- Democratic state senators who fled Wisconsin to protest the governor's bid to curb the bargaining rights of public workers were greeted Saturday by cheering crowds and vowed to continue the fight.

"People think that this is a picnic for us. They're wrong. But I'll tell you something, we did it for the right reasons," said state Sen. Dave Hansen. "And the fight will continue. It does not end with that vote."

The senators are back in Wisconsin just one day after Gov. Scott Walker signed into law a bill that limits the bargaining rights of most state workers.

Cheering crowds turned out at the state Capitol to welcome them home.

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Republicans cleared a final hurdle to the controversial proposal Thursday, passing the bill after the state's GOP-controlled Senate approved an amended version of the measure. This, despite the absence of the 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.

Senate Democrats called the bill an attack on workers' 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.

"We gave them hope. But they gave us inspiration," state Sen. Spencer Coggs said about the protesters.