- Associated Press - Thursday, February 24, 2011

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin state troopers were dispatched Thursday to try to find at least one of the 14 Senate Democrats who have been on the run for eight days to delay a vote on Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to strip collective bargaining rights from nearly all public employees.

Meanwhile, the state Assembly appeared close to voting on the union rights bill after two days of filibustering the measure with a blizzard of amendments. Democrats reached an early-morning deal after 43 hours of debate to limit the number of remaining amendments and time spent on each.

Troopers went to multiple homes Thursday morning hoping to find at least one of the 14 Democrats, some of whom were rumored to have made short trips home to pick up clothes and other necessities before again fleeing the state. But the troopers came up empty-handed, Senate Sergeant at Arms Ted Blazel said.

“Every night we hear about some that are coming back home,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican, who hoped the move to send the troopers would pressure Democrats to return.


But Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who was in the Chicago area, said all 14 senators remained outside Wisconsin and would not return until Mr. Walker was willing to compromise.

“It’s not so much the Democrats holding things up, it’s really a matter of Gov. Walker holding things up,” Mr. Erpenbach said.

Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie issued a statement praising the Assembly for nearing a vote and renewing Mr. Walker’s call for Senate Democrats to come back.

Thousands of people have protested the bill for nine straight days, with hundreds spending the night on the Capitol’s hard marble floor as the debate was broadcast on monitors in the Rotunda. Many still were sleeping when the deal to debate only 38 more amendments, for no more than 10 minutes each, was announced shortly after 6 a.m. The timing of the agreement means the vote could come as soon as noon Thursday.

“We will strongly make our points, but understand, you are limiting the voice of the public as you do this,” said Democratic state Rep. Mark Pocan of Madison. “You can’t dictate democracy. You are limiting the people’s voice with this agreement this morning.”

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

Passage of the bill in the Assembly would be a major victory for Republicans and Mr. Walker, but the measure still must clear the Senate. Democrats there left town last week rather than vote on the bill, which has stymied efforts there to take it up.

The battle over labor rights has been heating up across the country, as new Republican majorities tackle budget woes in several states. The GOP efforts have sparked huge protests from unions and their supporters and led Democrats in Wisconsin and Indiana to flee their states to block measures.

Republicans in Ohio offered a small concession Wednesday, saying they would support allowing unionized state workers to collectively bargain on wages but not for benefits, sick time, vacation or other conditions. Wisconsin’s proposal also would allow most public workers to collectively bargain only for wages.

In Ohio, Senate President Tom Niehaus, a Republican, denied that protests have dented the GOP’s resolve, saying lawmakers decided to make the change after listening to hours of testimony. He said he still believes the bill’s core purpose — reining in spending by allowing governments more flexibility in dealing with their workers — is intact.

Senate Minority Leader Capri S. Cafaro, a Democrat, called the changes “window dressing.” She said the entire bill should be scrapped.

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