Wisconsin lawmakers poised to vote on budget move amid protests

MADISON, Wisconsin Thu Feb 17, 2011 10:38am EST

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MADISON, Wisconsin (Reuters) - Amid increasingly vocal protests, Wisconsin's Republican-controlled legislature was poised to vote on Thursday on a budget measure that would strip away most collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Many schools throughout the state closed Thursday -- Madison's for the second day in a row -- after the state's largest teachers' union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, urged members to come to Madison and join thousands of others protesting around and inside the state capitol.

"This is not about protecting our pay and benefits. It is about our right to collectively bargain," WEAC President Mary Bell said.

The Wisconsin State Senate, controlled 19-14 by the GOP, was set to go first after the budget committee approved Republican Governor Scott Walker's bill with some minor changes on a partisan vote late Wednesday night.

Republican legislative leaders said they expected no more changes.

Senate Joint Finance Committee co-chair Alberta Darling said the choice is either to get these concessions from employees, or lay them off.

"It's not like we're choosing to do this. We are broke," she said.

(Writing by Jeff Mayers; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Jerry Norton)

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