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Protesters disrupt Senate budget debate

State Police confront a protester who has a bike lock around her neck and the railing in the gallery of the state Senate at the beginning of the state budget session on Thursday in Madison. Protesters disrupted the start of the session with shouting. (AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, Craig Schreiner)

Minutes after starting the Senate’s budget hearing, members broke into recess after a group of shouting protesters halted any chance for debate.

State troopers arrested more than a half-dozen protesters, a few of whom had locked themselves to portions of the gallery without a key. Members of the Senate tried to push through the protests by completing roll call and the national anthem, but soon went into recess.

C.J. Ellis, 22, Madison, was arrested along with five other friends for shouting, “Fired up, can’t take it no more,” and “Kill the bill.”

“Basically people were voicing their opinion that the Senate is failing to do their job, and we believe that it’s the people’s duty to speak up for themselves when their legislators aren’t doing what they are elected to do,” Ellis said.

Gov. Scott Walker’s $66 billion 2011-13 budget was passed by the state Assembly early Thursday after more than 12 hours of debate.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said he appreciated the protesters’ passion, but would rather see them deliver it in a more positive manner.

“I don’t want anybody to be hurt over any of this stuff,” Erpenbach said. “They’re just delaying the Senate from getting to the floor and dealing with the budget as a whole.”

Senate President Michael Ellis, R-Neenah, chastised demonstrators for disrupting the proceedings, telling them Wisconsin’s lawmakers are “good people.”

C.J. Ellis, meanwhile, estimated Thursday’s arrest to be his fifth or sixth in relation to disruptive protests at the Capitol building.

“It feels good to make my voice heard, but the problem is, there are a lot of people hearing my voice, but not listening,” Ellis said. “The legislators are not very accessible. They are not listening to the people from the districts that are telling them that this budget is going to harm them.

“It’s a situation where I feel like a majority of the legislators don’t fully comprehend to what extent they are going to be ruining people’s lives. We are trying to show them we are human beings, real people, not just statistics.”

Erpenbach urged Wisconsin citizens who were upset with the budget to become involved in the August recall elections of Republican legislators.

“If the Democrats do take over the majority of the Senate, at the very least, that forces the governor to sit down and talk with the Democrats and try to come to resolutions of these issues going forward,” Erpenbach said. “That to me is the best use of energy right now; this isn’t over, there’s no doubt about that.”

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