Walker Calls on Senate Dems to Return After Wisconsin Assembly Passes Anti-Union Bill

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker called on the public Friday to ratchet up the pressure on the 14 runaway Senate Democrats to return to their jobs in Wisconsin after the state Assembly passed an anti-union budget bill that has set off massive protests and seized the nation's attention.

The bill, which would take away the collective bargaining rights of most public employees in the state and require public employees to pay more for their health and retirement benefits, cannot be passed and signed into law until those Senate Democrats give up their life on the run and return to Madison.

"I'm not asking people to agree with me on every single part of this budget-repair bill, but what I am asking is for 14 state senators to do what their colleagues in the Assembly have done over the last several days and that's come back and have a vote," he said in a news conference.

But those Senate Democrats, who fled to Illinois last week, show no signs of returning. Republicans, who control the chamber, sent state troopers out looking for them at their homes on Thursday, but they turned up nothing.

The vote on Friday morning ended three straight days of punishing debate in the Assembly. But Democrats in that chamber are crying foul because they say the proper procedure to cut debate wasn't followed. Assembly Democratic leaders are now considering whether to challenge the vote.

Walker, a Republican who is trying to tackle a projected $3.6 billion shortfall over two years, has said that if the bill does not pass by Friday, the state will miss a deadline to refinance $165 million of debt and will be forced to start issuing layoff notices.

However, the deadline may not be as strict as he says.

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau said earlier this week that the debt refinancing could be pushed back as late as Tuesday to achieve the savings Walker wants. Based on a similar refinancing in 2004, about two weeks are needed after the bill becomes law to complete the deal. That means if the bill is adopted by the middle of next week, the state can still meet a March 16 deadline, the Fiscal Bureau said.

In the meantime, the political standoff over the bill -- and the monumental protests at the state Capitol against it -- appear far from over.

Union leaders say they would make pension and health care concessions if they can keep their bargaining rights, but Walker has refused to compromise.

Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach said he and his colleagues wouldn't return until Walker compromised.

Tens of thousands of people have jammed the Capitol since last week to protest, pounding on drums and chanting so loudly that police providing security have resorted to ear plugs. Hundreds have taken to sleeping in the building overnight, dragging in air mattresses and blankets.

But police in the Wisconsin state Capitol are intending to start removing sleeping bags and other items used by protesters starting Friday afternoon.

A pamphlet distributed to law enforcement officer on Friday instructs police to begin removing sleeping bags, air mattresses, blankets, tables, coolers and other items starting at 4 p.m.

The document also instructs police to not allow any sleeping on the second, third or fourth floors of the building.

Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie says people can still spend the night in the building if they wish. He says the new restrictions were made to ensure the safety and public health of everyone.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.