Tag Archives: legislation

Fight or Flight?

17 Feb

Protesters in the Wisconsin Capitol. Photo courtesy of Andy Manis, AP.

To avoid voting on a controversial bill in the state senate, 14 Wisconsin Democrats packed up and left town. The bill was set to be voted upon earlier today.

If passed, the bill would redefine rights for many public service employees, including those employed in schools and prisons. The most controversial aspects of the bill include the dissolution of collective bargaining and an increase in pension costs. The proposed savings from the bill would amount to $300 million over the next two years. Governor Scott Walker and Republican leaders said on Monday that they had enough votes to pass the bill. Wisconsin public employees were not pleased.

An estimated 25,000 people protested the bill at the Capitol on Tuesday and Wednesday. Demonstrators beat drums, called for lawmakers to “kill the bill,” and challenged Walker’s authority. Today, as the Wisconsin public awaited the fate of the bill, a legislative leader announced that were not enough senators present to vote on the bill. Only one democratic representative would have been required for voting on the bill to ensue.

This leaves the question: what happens next?

As a citizen and future teacher in the neighboring state of Michigan, this issue feels close to home. There is concern among residents of Michigan that a similar bill will be drawn up in upcoming months, and our state workers will be faced with the same issues. Will our public employees also count on their senators to flee town? To me, this seems like an arbitrary, temporary solution. The bill is still there. The senate is waiting.

The Democrats will have to return at some point, as they are compelled by state law and duty. Perhaps their actions and the actions of the protesters will pay off, and amendments will be made to the bill. Perhaps this is the way to effect change and I am simply unaware.

To me, the real issue is rooted deeper than fleeing Democrats. The real issue is the the same as the great concern of our nation – the overstretched budget. What do we cut? What rights are we willing to lose? Which ones will we refuse to give up? Is it a good decision to cut $300 million from public service departments by stripping employees of rights they have worked hard to gain since the 1950’s? Or should state governments be looking at deeper, long-term issues that cause frivolous spending in all state departments? Perhaps the salaries of the top ten percent of the highest paid public employees should be cut.

The decision is not easy and there is no straight answer toward large-scale structural change. Events like those occurring in Wisconsin will continue all over the United States as the rights of the people are challenged. Kudos to Wisconsin for making their voice heard.

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