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Wis. state troopers sent to look for fugitive Democrats

As senators hide, Assembly nears vote on union bill

By Scott Bauer
Associated Press / February 25, 2011

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MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin state troopers were dispatched yesterday to the doorsteps of some of the AWOL Democratic senators in hopes of finding at least one who would come back to allow a vote on a measure to curb the power of public-employee unions.

The stepped-up tactic ordered by the Republican head of the Senate came amid reports that at least a few of the missing senators were returning home at night to pick up clothes, food, and other necessities, before rejoining their colleagues in Illinois.

Meanwhile, the state Assembly appeared close to voting on the bill after more than two days of filibustering.

Democrats agreed before dawn yesterday to limit the remaining number of amendments they offer and the time they devote to each one. Nearly 12 hours after the agreement was announced, they were still debating the measure that Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, insists is necessary to ease the state’s budget woes and avoid mass layoffs.

Democrats urged Republicans to accept a compromise that would keep collective bargaining intact.

“We all know there is an impasse. There is one person who can end this impasse, and that is Governor Walker,’’ said the Assembly’s Democratic leader, Peter Barca, as debate reached its 53d hour. “This state has never been more divided in the last 25 years. . . . It’s the governor’s job to unify the state.’’

But Republicans summarily rejected every Democratic amendment in the marathon session, which unfolded as grand political theater.

Democrats, who are in the minority, don’t have the votes to stop the bill once the vote occurs.

But even after the bill passes the Assembly, it cannot become law until it also passes the Senate, where action has been stymied by the absence of the Democrats. At least one of them needs to be there in order for Republicans to take up the bill, because the GOP is one seat short of a quorum.

The Senate convened at 7 a.m. yesterday just long enough to take a roll call, which allows for the sergeant at arms staff to go to missing lawmakers’ homes with police.

Troopers went to multiple addresses but left after finding no one home, said Sergeant at Arms Ted Blazel.

Senator Jon Erpenbach, a Democrat who was in the Chicago area, said all 14 senators would not return until Walker was willing to compromise.

Wisconsin’s measure would forbid most government workers from collectively bargaining for wage increases beyond the rate of inflation. It also would require public workers to pay more toward their pensions and health insurance. Police and firefighters would be exempt.

In Ohio, a similar proposal in a Senate committee drew thousands of protesters to the State House, just as in Wisconsin.

Indiana Democrats left their state on Tuesday, successfully blocking a Republican bill that would have prohibited union membership from being a condition of employment.

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