MADISON, Wis.- Police carried dozens of protesters from a hallway leading to the Wisconsin Assembly on Thursday as Democratic representatives pounded on the locked door of the chamber, demanding to be let in to the room where a vote was scheduled on an explosive bill that would take away public workers' collective bargaining rights.
At least 100 protesters packed the hallway, pounding drums, while the Democratic representatives gathered in front of the doors, which were opened just before 11:30 a.m. At least 50 protesters were carried out by police, and the building was locked down briefly while officers did a security review.
Rallies against the bill have attracted thousands of protesters to the Capitol over the past several weeks. A vote on it had been held up after 14 Democratic senators fled to Illinois three weeks ago, leaving that chamber one short of the 20 members needed to take up any measures that spend money.
Republicans got around that Wednesday by using an unexpected but simple procedural move to remove all spending measures from Gov. Scott Walker's collective bargaining legislation and voting to approve it without Democrats present.
About 200 people spent the night in the Capitol in protest over the Senate's swift and unexpected passage of the bill.
With the Assembly's vote scheduled for 11 a.m., dozens of Democratic representatives showed up to find the doors to the chamber locked.
"What more egregious, illegal, unethical step can be taken to prevent democracy in Wisconsin?" asked Rep. Donna Seidel, D-Wausau, as she pounded on the door along with her colleagues.
With the Assembly empty, it was not clear where Republican lawmakers were. They showed up and began to file after the doors were opened.
Police began clearing protesters out about an hour before the scheduled vote. Danny Spitzberg, 26, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said officers gave protesters little explanation for why they needed to leave. He walked out on his own after being ordered to leave, but others were dragged through the hall.
"This is grossly undemocratic, it stinks up the whole process," Spitzberg said.
--- Associated Press writer Scott Bauer contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)