In brief: Walker signs bill; more fights ahead
MADISON, Wis. – Even as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Friday signed into law a bill that sharply curbs collective bargaining for most public employees, his opponents were preparing for more demonstrations, court battles and political infighting over what has become a national test of labor’s power.
Organizers were hoping to attract tens of thousands protesters to the Capitol today for a rally featuring the return of Democratic lawmakers who fled the state on Feb. 17 in an effort to block the measure from passing. Along with the rally, Democrats are planning to ask the courts to overturn the new law and they have begun circulating petitions to recall some lawmakers. GOP supporters are circulating their own recall petitions, directed at the Democrats.
Despite the continuing sparring, Walker defended the bill, which he had proposed as part of an austerity package designed to balance the state’s finances by increasing employee contributions for health care and pension benefits.
During the standoff, Walker threatened to lay off 1,500 public employees. On Friday, he canceled the layoff warnings.
Florida loses federal rail funds
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration says it’s taking back the $2.4 billion allocated to Florida for high-speed trains and is inviting other states to apply for the money.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement Friday that he will make the funds available through competitive bidding to states eager to develop high-speed rail corridors.
The Florida project would have connected Tampa and Orlando with high-speed trains. But Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, said he didn’t want to obligate the state to pay for what could be expensive operating costs for the line.
LaHood’s actions appeared to put an end to the on-again, off-again negotiations between Scott and supporters of the project trying to find a formula to keep it alive.
Aristide says he’s ending exile
JOHANNESBURG – Ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide will return within days to his homeland, ending seven years in exile, a South African official said Friday. The former slum priest remains hugely popular and his return could disrupt an election this month in his earthquake-ravaged country.
In Haiti, an official with Aristide’s Lavalas Party confirmed that his “return is imminent,” but declined to say how or when he’s coming back.
“It’s an important event for the people in Haiti because they have waited so long for this,” said Maryse Narcisse, the head of Lavalas’ executive council. “He will not be traveling incognito. People will know he is coming.”
In January, a full-page ad in the Miami Herald calling for his immediate return carried 190 signatures, including those of social organizations, political figures such as Jesse Jackson and deputy U.N. Special Envoy to Haiti Paul Farmer, entertainer Harry Belafonte and actor Danny Glover. Jackson, Glover and nine others also wrote a letter to South African President Jacob Zuma urging him to “assist the Aristides in making their transition as soon as possible” since “all the last remaining obstacles to the Aristides’ return have been removed.”
Aristide’s push to come back from exile follows the stunning return of former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier in January.
Aristide emerged as a leading voice for Haiti’s poor and helped lead a popular revolt that forced an end to the Duvalier family’s 29-year dictatorship. Aristide became the country’s first democratically elected president, despite opposition from the army and Haiti’s elite.
During his exile, Aristide has said many times that he wants to return home as a private citizen and work as an educator.