By SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. â€“ Protesters who have descended on Wisconsin’s Capitol in hopes of halting a Republican effort to end a half-century of collective bargaining rights for public workers steeled themselves for a long fight, buoyed byÂ Democrats’Â decision to flee to avoid the measure’s near-certain passage.
With Democrats saying they won’t return before Saturday, it was unclear when the Senate would be able to begin debating the measure meant to ease the state’s budget woes. Democrats who disappeared Thursday at first kept their whereabouts secret, then started to emerge to give interviews and fan the protests.
Tens of thousands of students, teachers and prison guards have turned out at the Capitol this week to protest, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the building’s hallways, sitting cross-legged across the floor and making it difficult to move from room to room. Some have brought along sleeping backs and stayed through the night.
Neil Graupner, a 19-year-old technical college student from Madison, said he was planning to stay until the matter is settled.
“The fact that the Democrats have walked out, it shows their listening to us,” he said late Thursday as he prepared to spend the night at the Capitol.
The protesters chants of “Kill the Bill!” and “Recall Walker Now!” could be heard throughout the day and long past dark. They beat on drums and carry signs deriding Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his plan to end collective bargaining for state, county and local workers, except for police, firefighters and the state patrol. Hundreds of teachers have joined the protests by calling in sick, forcing some school districts to cancel classes.
Republicans say they have the votes to pass the bill. Although it seems Democrats are merely delaying the inevitable, the protesters are undeterred.
“I always expect the worst, but at the least I figure this would lead to such larger strikes that it would be a bad move for Republicans and Scott Walker,” Graupner said.
SenateÂ Republicans planned to try for a vote again Friday. With 19 seats, they hold a majority in the 33-member chamber, but they are one vote short of the number necessary to conduct business. The GOP needs at least one Democrat to be present before any voting can take place. The measure needs 17 votes to pass.
The Assembly also planned to be in session Friday and could take up the bill first if theÂ Senate remains in limbo.
Senate rules and the state constitution say absent members can be compelled to appear, but it does not say how.
Sen. Tim Cullen said he and other Democrats planned to stage their boycott until Saturday to give the public more time to speak out against the bill.
“The plan is to try and slow this down because it’s an extreme piece of legislation that’s tearing this state apart,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who was with Democratic senators in northernÂ Illinois on Thursday before they dispersed.
To read more, visit: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_wisconsin_budget_unions
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