After four years of off-and-on infighting and intrigue, testimony from 100 witnesses and long hours of debate, the Vermont Senate passed a bill Thursday that will allow independent child care providers who receive subsidies from the state to form a collective bargaining unit.

The vote on S.316 was 22-8 on Thursday. The legislation was approved for final passage in the Senate on Friday.

It was the first time the bill's substance was heard on the merits. In previous debates on the Senate floor, the legislation has been ruled out for procedural reasons.

Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, a staunch opponent of the bill went head-to-head with the main sponsor, Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Windsor, in a 2½ hour back-and-forth that prompted a number of recesses, amendments, interrogations, attacks and counterattacks.

The bill allows child care providers to negotiate with the Shumlin administration for higher subsidies, but the Legislature must approve the appropriation.

Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, has long opposed S.316, and he didn't waiver in his skepticism on Thursday. Campbell said his concern is that the bill technically makes child care providers employees of the state and entitled to workers' compensation.

Representatives from child care centers and the American Federation of Teachers were thrilled and a little teary-eyed when the Secretary of the Senate, John Bloomer, announced the outcome of the vote.

Heather Riemer, a lobbyist for the union, said: "This is a really great day for providers across the state of Vermont. They have been fighting for four years to have the same right as teachers and firefighters to come together to negotiate to make early education better for the families they serve."

The legislation now goes to the House, which passed a previous iteration of the bill several years ago.