MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin’s governor threatened Thursday to issue thousands of layoff notices within 24 hours if Senate Democrats who fled to Illinois fail to return for a vote on a measure that would cripple public unions, and their Republican colleagues also stepped up the pressure by authorizing police to round up the missing lawmakers.

The efforts marked the most drastic steps in the standoff that has extended more than two weeks, halting action on Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to end most collective bargaining for state workers, which he says is critical to solving the state’s budget crisis.

On Thursday night, a judge ordered around 100 protesters who had been spending the night there for weeks to leave, although he said they could return during regular business hours. During a hearing over access to the Capitol, police said they found 41 rounds of .22-caliber rifle ammunition scattered at several locations outside the building.

In an interview, Walker said he will issue layoff notices to 1,500 state workers today if his proposal, which also would force the workers to pay more for benefits, isn’t passed. Because the Senate Democrats left, the chamber doesn’t have a quorum.

While Walker said he is actively working with some of the Democrats in hopes of striking a deal, he said he won’t compromise on the collective bargaining issue or anything that saves the state money.

“I can’t take any of that off the table,” he said. “We cannot tear apart this budget. We cannot put this burden on local governments. But if there are other ways they are willing to work with us to find a pathway back, I think that’s what people want.”

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller confirmed there were talks with Walker, but he did not think they were close to reaching a deal.

The Republican leader of the state Senate signed orders finding the 14 AWOL Democrats in contempt and allowing the chamber’s sergeant at arms to use police force to detain them if necessary. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said his orders are only binding should the senators return to Wisconsin.

The Senate passed a resolution earlier in the day setting a 4 p.m. deadline for the senators to appear at the chamber. When none of them did, Fitzgerald signed the orders in dramatic fashion in the center of the Senate chamber.

Fitzgerald called on any Wisconsin citizens who see the senators to contact police. He argued the resolution is about restoring order to the Senate and not the issues surrounding the union bill, which has led to three weeks of demonstrations by tens of thousands of protesters at the state Capitol.

Walker’s budget proposal hinges on the state saving $330 million over two years from forcing state workers to pay more for their benefits. He’s also cutting aid to schools and local governments by about $1 billion, reductions he says they can’t handle without the freedom he gives them through eliminating nearly all collective bargaining with public workers.

Walker said he has to issue the layoff notices starting today so the state can start to realize the $30 million savings he had assumed would come from the state worker concessions contained in the bill. The layoffs wouldn’t be effective for 31 days, and Walker said he could rescind them if the bill passed in the meantime.

All state workers, except those at prisons, state hospitals and other facilities open around the clock, would be potential layoff targets, he said.

The Wisconsin Professional Police Association, representing 11,000 law enforcement officials from across the state, released a statement from its director Jim Palmer slamming the Senate Republicans’ resolution to go after the Democrats.

“The thought of using law enforcement officers to exercise force in order to achieve a political objective is insanely wrong and Wisconsin sorely needs reasonable solutions and not potentially dangerous political theatrics,” Palmer said.

 


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