Wis. state troopers sent to missing Dems' homes

Wisconsin Senate Chief Clerk Robert Marchant, left, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, center left, a Senate clerk, secibd right and Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, right, listen as two Democratic Senators talk on a conference from undisclosed location on a conference call during a Senate Committee on Organization at the state Capitol in Madison, Wis., Feb. 21, 2011. AP Photo/Andy Manis

MADISON, Wis. - The Wisconsin state Senate sergeant at arms says Wisconsin state troopers have gone to the homes of multiple Senate Democrats but left after finding no one at home.

Troopers were sent Thursday morning to the homes of some of the 14 Senate Democrats who left town eight days ago rather than vote on a bill taking away collective bargaining rights from public workers.

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 before rejoining their colleagues in Illinois.

Sergeant at Arms Ted Blazel says troopers knocked on the doors and looked around but left after finding no one at home. He would not say how many homes they went to.

Police can't arrest senators but Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says he hoped the lawmakers would feel compelled to return if police showed up at their doors.

At least one Democrat needs to be there in order for Republicans to take up the bill since the GOP is one seat short of having a quorum.

Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach, one of the state Senate Democrats who fled the state last week, says they all are out of state and will not be swayed by police home visits.

The Republican-controlled Senate convened at 7 a.m. Thursday and ordered a call of the house, which allowed Fitzgerald to dispatch the state patrol to the homes of missing senators.

Republicans are trying to vote on Gov. Scott Walker's proposal that would take away collective bargaining rights from public employees.

Walker styled himself a modern-day Ronald Reagan battling the evils of big labor in a recorded crank call by a liberal blogger, reports CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds. In the call, Walker said he is pondering punishing state workers with layoffs.

Meanwhile, the democrats in the state Assembly agreed to a deal in the pre-dawn hours Thursday to limit debate and reach a vote, perhaps by midday, on the collective bargaining bill.

The deal announced shortly after 6 a.m. was designed to force a vote on Walker's bill following more than 42 hours of debate that began Tuesday morning.

"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. "You can't dictate democracy. You are limiting the people's voice with this agreement this morning."

The battle over labor rights has been heating up across the country, as new Republican majorities tackle budget woes in several states. The Republican efforts have sparked huge protests from unions and their supporters. Union members are a big part of the Democrats' voter base and their support will be much needed in next year's elections.

Tens of thousands of people have protested the bill for nine straight days, with hundreds spending the night in sleeping bags on the hard marble floor of the Capitol as the debate was broadcast on monitors in the rotunda. Many of them were still sleeping when the deal to only debate 38 more amendments, for no more than 10 minutes each, was announced. The timing of the agreement means the vote could come as soon as noon Thursday.

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 Walker, but the measure must still clear the Senate. Democrats in the Senate left town last week rather than vote on the bill, which has stymied any efforts there to take it up.

In Indiana, Democrats successfully killed a Republican bill that would have prohibited union membership from being a condition of employment by leaving the state on Tuesday. They remained in Illinois in hopes of derailing other parts of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels' agenda, including restrictions on teacher collective bargaining.

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

Ohio's measure sits in a Senate committee. No vote has been scheduled on the plan, but thousands of protesters have gathered at the Statehouse to demonstrate, just as in Wisconsin.

In Oklahoma, a Republican-controlled state House committee on Wednesday narrowly approved legislation to repeal collective bargaining rights for municipal workers in that state's 13 largest cities.

Comments