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Wisconsin anti-union bill passes, heads to governor's desk

Wisconsin, protests
Demonstrators make their voices heard as legislators deliberate a controversial budget bill in the Assembly room of the Wisconsin State Capitol Building in Madison, Wis., Thursday, March 10, 2011. Demonstrations at the capitol have intensified as House members gathered to vote on an amended version of Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill. The bill, which passed the state Senate earlier, largely strips public employees of bargaining rights. AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, John Hart

Updated at 6:10 p.m. ET

The Wisconsin Assembly on Thursday afternoon passed the controversial bill limiting the power of public employee unions that has spurred massive protests in the state capital for weeks, paving the way for the bill to be signed into law.

The modified "budget repair bill" scales back public workers' benefits as well as their collective bargaining rights. The legislation, put forward by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, had been stalled in the state Senate after all 14 Democratic state senators fled the state to avoid a vote on the bill. Last night, however, Republicans in the state Senate used a legislative maneuver to pass the bill without a full quorum.

Now that both chambers have passed the bill, the governor's spokesperson Cullen Werwie said that Walker would sign the bill "as soon as possible," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

Walker issued a statement after Thursday's vote applauding all members of the Assembly "for showing up, debating the legislation and participating in democracy."

"Their action will save jobs, protect taxpayers, reform government, and help balance the budget," he said. "Moving forward we will continue to focus on ensuring Wisconsin has a business climate that allows the private sector to create 250,000 new jobs."

The conflict over the legislation, however, is far from over. Protesters continued to pack the capitol building in Madison, the Republican state Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald has received a death threat, and questions remain as to whether Republicans violated state laws by passing the bill with little notice and without the Democrats present.

Today, attorneys for Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca filed a complaint with the Dane County district attorney's office alleging Wednesday's vote violated the state's open meetings law, according to the Journal Sentinel. During the Assembly session today, Barca unsuccessfully tried to remove Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald from the floor.

"Your speaker is impaired," Barca yelled on the Assembly floor. "Our democracy is out of control in Wisconsin... You all know it, you all feel it."

Jeff Fitzgerald said the bill was a "tough vote" for Republicans and a political "gamble," the Journal Sentinel reports, but said it needed to be done for the sake of the state budget.

In a press conference today, Walker called the state senators' departure a "dirty trick."

In order to proceed without the Democrats, state Senate Republicans last night removed the more overt spending elements from Walker's proposal, since a 20-vote quorum is only needed for spending-related measures.

The newly-approved legislation includes elements that would seem to impact the budget, such as the provision requiring public workers to pay more for health care and pensions, though the bill is ostensibly not budget-related.

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