- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Gov. Scott Walker told Wisconsin’s business leaders Wednesday that he plans to sign a right-to-work bill into law early next week, calling it a “tremendous tool” that will help the state’s economy.

Walker, a likely presidential candidate, drew applause at the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce business day event when he referred to the right-to-work proposal, which he says he’ll sign Monday. Wisconsin will become the 25th state with a law that bars businesses entering into contracts with unions that require workers to pay union dues.

The Assembly is expected to pass the bill, sending it to Walker, sometime Thursday or Friday.

“By passing that, and by us signing it into law on Monday, it gives us one more tremendous tool,” Walker said. “If you’re a company that’s here and you’re looking to grow or if you’re talking to one of your colleagues in the industry and you’re trying to get someone to come here, we now have given one more big thing on that checklist to say that Wisconsin is open for business.

Opponents say that right-to-work laws drive down wages for workers and won’t drive economic development the way that backers like Walker say it will.

Walker is a longtime supporter of right-to-work, but during his re-election campaign last year he said it wasn’t a priority and wouldn’t come up this session. When Senate Republicans made the surprise move to quickly pass the bill less than two weeks ago, Walker said for the first time that he would sign it into law.

The Senate passed it last week and the Assembly was scheduled to debate it starting Thursday, with a vote coming sometime before 9 a.m. Friday. Because Walker didn’t know exactly when the Assembly would pass the bill, he decided to plan on doing it Monday, said his spokeswoman Laurel Patrick.

The Assembly Labor Committee held an executive session Wednesday afternoon and rejected four Democratic amendments to the bill. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said all attempts to make changes to the proposal will be voted down because that would delay it passing.

If the Assembly changes the bill, that would require another vote by the Senate.

Democrats have argued the bill, which was introduced less than two weeks ago, was moving too quickly.

“It’s truly sad when you have a state in 10 days wanting to reverse 75 years of labor progress,” Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said Wednesday at a news conference.

Democrats want to delay the start of the new law by 90 days, rather than have it take effect as soon as Walker signs it. They also want to remove a provision making it a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail, for violating the law. Another proposed change would undo the law if wages don’t increase in three years, as backers claim they will.

Republicans control the Assembly 63-36. Vos said he expected some Republicans would vote against it, but he was confident there were “way more than 50 votes” to pass the bill.

In the Senate, all Democrats and one Republican voted against it.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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