MADISON, Wis. (CBS) – Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) said Wednesday that he wants a vote by the day’s end on a bill to strip collective bargaining rights from public employees.
Meanwhile, protesters are still marching outside on the streets of Madison, and Democratic state senators remain camped out in Chicago in an effort to stall a vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s plan.
Democrats say the bill would bust public unions, but Republicans led by Gov. Scott Walker say the bill is non-negotiable. Tens of thousands of unionized workers and supporters have traveled to Wisconsin to fight Walker’s bill.
A total of 14 state senators left the state to hold back the vote on the bill. Turning up the pressure on the Democrats, Walker warned Tuesday that state employees could start receiving layoff notices as early as next week if the bill isn’t passed soon. The layoffs couldn’t take effect immediately — existing union contracts could forestall them for weeks or months — and Walker wouldn’t say which jobs he would go after first.
Wisconsin state Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) said Wednesday that he remains in Chicago, and the senators planned to meet later in the day.
But he said the senators had no plans to return to the state to take up the bill until Walker is willing to compromise.
Republican state Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) is pushing his compromise that would make the removal of bargaining rights temporary.
Erpenbach says he believes public opinion is on the side of bill opponents. The proposal has attracted tens of thousands of protesters to the Capitol for nine straight days, with hundreds of them sleeping over every night.
While Wisconsin remained the main front in the national debate over union rights, similar battles were taking shape in other states. In Indiana, House Democrats walked out of the Statehouse on Tuesday, blocking a GOP-backed bill against mandatory union dues. Only three of the 40 Democratic members of the chamber were present, depriving it of a quorum.
Because House Democrats skipped the entire day’s floor session, the right-to-work legislation missed a procedural deadline for further consideration. However, Republicans could find other ways to consider it later.
A similar debate in Ohio drew thousands of union protesters Tuesday, prompting officials there to lock the doors to the Statehouse.
In Wisconsin, if lawmakers take no action on the union bill by the end of the week, the state will not be able to refinance debt that Walker had counted on for $165 million worth of savings under the legislation. Republican leaders in both the Senate and Assembly said they have the votes to pass the bill.
Fitzgerald said the bill was a key part of the Republican agenda to cut government spending that won the GOP majorities in the Legislature in November.
“When you talk about a compromise, no. We’re going to make a reform,” the Assembly speaker said.
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