Monday, March 7, 2011

Republicans declare the missing legislators 'in contempt' of Senate rules.

Wisconsin Senate authorizes arrests of absent Democrats

Republicans declare the missing legislators 'in contempt' of Senate rules.

Wisconsin arrests

Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgeral carries orders to the clerk finding the 14 missing Democrats in contempt, at the state Capitol in Madison, Wis., Thursday, March 3. (Andy Manis / Associated Press)

Wisconsin Senate Republicans on Thursday ratcheted up the pressure on Democrats who fled the state to avoid a vote to strip most public workers of collective bargaining rights, declaring the Democrats "in contempt" of Senate rules and authorizing their arrests to force them back to the chamber.

Republicans have fumed that Democrats have essentially shut down state government since they left for Illinois two weeks ago to deprive the chamber of the quorum it needs to vote on Republican Gov. Scott Walker's proposal. Two Democrats returned to Wisconsin this week for negotiations with the Senate's top Republican, but that appeared to go nowhere.

Republicans said some Democrats were sneaking into the state at night to see their families and that they needed to take some action to get state business going again. They took the step after a judge, hearing a lawsuit against one of the absent senators, ruled that only the Senate could compel Democrats to return to the chamber.

Democrats criticized the move. "All 14 of us remain in Illinois, very strong in our convictions," Sen. Jon Erpenbach said in a statement.

Walker's plan would exempt law enforcement unions, but the Wisconsin Professional Police Assn. criticized the GOP move, saying in a statement that asking law enforcement to use force to achieve a political objective "is insanely wrong."

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