Lawmakers were flooded with public input Tuesday as hundreds of people sought to testify at a hearing on Gov. Scott Walker's plan to strip bargaining rights from nearly all public employees.
As public testimony promised to stretch into this morning, leaders of the Legislature's budget committee said they wanted to wait to vote on the measure until those who hoped to speak had a chance to be heard.
But Republican leaders said the governor has the support needed in both the state Senate and Assembly to approve the proposal, and that the Senate will likely be debating the bill as early as Thursday.
"It will pass," said Andrew Welhouse, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau.
Many of those who testified accused Republicans of trying to ram the proposal through the Legislature in an attempt to silence opponents.
Jeff Voss of Mayville, who's worked as a corrections officer for 17 years, urged lawmakers to negotiate with public workers rather dictating working conditions and benefits to them.
Voss, 56, said he voted for Walker in November but was disappointed and "didn't think he'd do this."
If the bill passes, Voss said, "employee morale will be gone, the safety of our institutions will be gone."
Democrats slammed the proposal, saying it dealt with serious policy issues not appropriate to be addressed in a budget repair bill.
"I thought the budget repair bill was supposed to address the budget, not policy," Rep. Tamara Grigsby, D-Milwaukee, said at the hearing.
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She later criticized the GOP for moving so quickly on the bill, saying, "We need to stop the rush to destroy Wisconsin's legacy of employee rights and look at honest solutions to Wisconsin's fiscal situation."
Her fellow Democrats also called on Republicans to slow down.
"It's unbelievable," Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee. "It's a great disservice to the people of Wisconsin to have something this sweeping raced through the Legislature."
Critics waiting outside the hearing agreed, citing Wisconsin's long history of union organizing. One sign in a Capitol hallway read, "Only one day for public input after 50 years of contract bargaining?"
But Vos repeatedly told the crowd that he and his fellow Republicans were committed to including the public in the process, and would stay as late as necessary to listen to public.
Standing outside the meeting room, Vos said he was hopeful presenters would offer alternatives for fixing the budget. "So far we've heard concerns," he said.
Walker has threatened layoffs of up to 7,500 state workers by the end of the next state budget if the plan does not pass.
Some in attendance, including tea party members, applauded Walker and the Republicans, urging them to pass the bill.
Kimberly Jo Simac, founder of the Northwoods Patriots, said Wisconsin is "in peril" and this bill is "only the beginning" of needed help.
"I ask you as our elected officials to lead," she said.