Wisconsin Assembly begins marathon right-to-work session, passage expected early Friday

Associated Press

The Wisconsin Assembly debated a right-to-work bill on Thursday, with a vote expected early Friday morning. Here are the highlights:

WHAT'S HAPPENING:

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The Senate passed the bill last week, now it's the Assembly's turn. Republicans hold a 63-36 majority, making the bill's passage all but certain. Speaker Robin Vos said he doesn't expect every Republican to vote for it, but there will be far more than the 50 votes needed. Under a bipartisan agreement, debate could go until 9 a.m. Friday. Once the bill passes, it will head to Gov. Scott Walker. He said he will sign it Monday, and it would take effect immediately.

WHAT IS RIGHT TO WORK?:

Right-to-work laws make it illegal for a private-sector business to enter into an agreement with unions that require all workers to pay union dues. Twenty-four other states have such laws, and several other states are considering them this year. Unions oppose the measure, saying it will weaken their power to negotiate salary, benefits and working conditions. A coalition of more than 400 Wisconsin businesses is also against it, saying the government shouldn't intrude on a system that's working. But Republican backers say workers should be given the freedom to decide whether to pay union dues, and they believe the law will attract businesses that may otherwise set up shop elsewhere.

DEMOCRATS' ARGUMENTS:

Democrats want to make a number of changes, including delaying implementation of the law and removing a provision that makes violating the law a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail. Vos said no amendments will be adopted because that would require another vote on the bill in the Senate, which would delay its passage. Democrats say the bill is moving too rapidly — it was introduced 13 days ago — and that improvements are needed.

WHAT THEY ARE SAYING:

"Today's a great day for individual liberty," said Republican Rep. Dan Knodl, of Germanton, at a news conference just prior to debate starting.

Vos said Republicans would fully engage in debate with Democrats to defend the bill, in part to help convince the public of the merits of the idea. Vos argues that right-to-work is another tool for the state, along with about $2 billion in tax cuts approved the past four years, that will help attract new business.

But Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca, at a news conference, called right-to-work "a very destructive bill for the middle class." Barca said it was an example of "right-wing extremism on steroids."

PROTESTS:

Union leaders organized a rally outside the Capitol for noon on Thursday to correspond with the debate. Similar rallies last week attracted a couple thousand opponents of the measure, which were larger than most Capitol protests but nowhere near the tens of thousands who gathered four years ago to speak out against Walker's law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers.

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