Question mark in the headline because all we know for sure is that they’ve sent the bill back to a conference committee for unspecified changes. But some of the fleebaggers are squawking that this means they’ve gone for the nuclear option — i.e. rather than include the collective bargaining provisions in a broader budget bill, which they can’t pass without Democrats because it’s “fiscal” in nature, they’re going to strip out the CB part and pass it separately. That’s not fiscal, according to Wisconsin law, so a simple quorum will do.

Two Democratic state senators said they think Republicans plan to pass parts of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal that take away collective bargaining rights from public workers without them.

Senate Republican leaders weren’t saying why they hastily created a conference committee that’s meeting later Wednesday night.

A source confirmed to WISC-TV that Republican senators intend to remove fiscal portions of the budget bill in order to pass it without Democratic senators.

I read a quote from senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald somewhere earlier today lamenting that he’d run out of options to try to entice the fugitive Dems back. They weren’t willing to make any deals, they weren’t cowed into coming home by the imposition of daily fines, so there’s nothing left to be done except take away their reason for staying away. There may be a backlash to doing it this way, but the backlash is already in effect via the recall campaigns the left is mounting against them. Like Ace says, probably the best thing they can do for themselves politically at this point is pass the damned thing, get it off the table, and let people cool down as it fades from the media cycle.

Plenty of updates to come, so stand by. Exit question: Don’t you hate it when irregular procedures are used to destroy a de facto filibuster of an unpopular bill?

Update: One of the fugitive Dems inadvertently makes the case for why the GOP should go ahead with this:

Democrats said the fines would have no effect on bringing them back to the state.

“They’ve messed with our staffs,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton). “They’ve taken away our parking spaces. They’ve extorted our paychecks. They’ve sent the State Patrol after us. And now they’ve fined us $100 a day.

“I don’t know what more they need to do to get the point that it’s not working.”

Right, it’s not working. It would be out-and-out political suicide for any of them to break ranks and come home so that the GOP can form a quorum, which means there’s nothing further to talk about here. Walker’s not dropping the collective bargaining bill and the Democrats aren’t budging from their demand that the collective bargaining bill be dropped. We’re at a complete impasse, and now the GOP’s going to resolve it. Done.

Update: A detail buried in the same story linked above: With exquisite irony, some of the fleebaggers’ supporters are screeching, “This is not democracy!”

Update: NBC reports that the conference committee has already approved the new split-off collective bargaining bill. Now it’s on to the senate for a vote; the GOP-controlled assembly will vote on it tomorrow. One hitch, though, from the Journal-Sentinel article linked above: Did they follow proper procedure in calling the conference committee?

Republican senators quickly assembled at 4 p.m. to send the bill to a conference committee, which convenes at 6 p.m. They largely declined comment after the meeting.

Attorney Robert Dreps, an expert on the state open meetings law, said he did not believe the conference committee could meet with such short notice.

State law generally requires a 24-hour notice for public meetings, but can be called with just two hours notice when more notice is impossible or impractical, said Dreps, who has represented the Journal Sentinel in the past.

“I can’t imagine how they can meet that standard,” he said.

Update: And just like that, the deed is done:

In 18-1 vote, Wis. Senate approves bill to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights

Update: Via Breitbart, here’s Fizgerald earlier today suggesting that the White House might be coordinating the recall efforts against Wisconsin state senators.

Update: Needless to say, if you’re in Wisconsin and planning to attend what’s sure to be a mega-protest tomorrow as the assembly convenes to pass the senate bill, make sure to bring a camera of some sort. The examples of “new tone” in action should be exquisite.

Update: Fleebagger Chris Larson retaliates with 100 megatons of pure oblivious irony:

What Republicans did was an affront to democracy. Never shall a voter doubt which party stands for the working class, and which for the rich

Update: Here’s Scott Walker’s brief statement congratulating the senate, and here’s a longer one from Fitzgerald. Money quote:

This afternoon, following a week and a half of line-by-line negotiation, Sen. Miller sent me a letter that offered three options: 1) keep collective bargaining as is with no changes, 2) take our counter-offer, which would keep collective bargaining as is with no changes, 3) or stop talking altogether.

With that letter, I realized that we’re dealing with someone who is stalling indefinitely, and doesn’t have a plan or an intention to return. His idea of compromise is “give me everything I want,” and the only negotiating he’s doing is through the media.

Enough is enough.

Update: An important clarification from John McCormack at the Standard. They didn’t split collective bargaining off from the budget bill; they amended the budget bill to remove the provisions that appropriate funds. That’s the “fiscal” part under Wisconsin law. The new bill is still a budget bill, and it still saves money:

The legislation being voted on tonight has few changes from the bill as initially proposed. It would save just $30 million less than the original budget bill by stripping out a refinancing provision. But it would still save the state $300 million over the next two years by requiring state employees to contribute about 5% of income toward their pensions and by requiring state workers to pay for about 12% of their health insurance premiums. It would also save $1.44 billion by requiring public employees in school districts and municipalities to pay 5% of their salaries toward their pensions and by removing collective bargaining for benefits, thus giving school districts and municipalities the option of requiring their employees to pay about 12% for their health insurance premiums.

Update: Wondering how the media will be reporting the news tonight? Well, here’s the headline Reuters came up with to describe a bill that eliminates collective bargaining for PEUs on benefits, but not on wages:

Update: Mama, they’re coming home.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (D-Monona) said they would be back by Thursday. They had been able to block a vote on the bill for three weeks because 20 senators had to be present to vote for it. Republicans control the house 19-14…

Democrats decried the move and warned it could end the political careers of some Republican senators who are under the threat of recall.

“I think it’s akin to political hara-kiri,” said Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar). “I think it’s political suicide.”…

State Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) said Wednesday night he attempted to drive back from Illinois to Madison to get to the Capitol before Republicans passed the measure.

Update: I keep hearing rumors on Twitter that Wisconsin unions may call a general strike tomorrow — i.e. a strike of all unions statewide, to show solidarity, not just of the PEUs affected by the bill — but I can’t find anything solid about that on the wires. E-mail us if you see something firm. Ed wrote about the prospect of a general strike a few weeks ago; if it happens, it’s illegal, and it’ll be a test of Walker’s nerve to see if he’s willing to fire people over it. How do you think that’ll play out?

Update: A timely op-ed in tomorrow’s Journal: Scott Walker explains why he’s taken a stand on collective bargaining.

While it might be a bold political move, the changes are modest. We ask government workers to make a 5.8% contribution to their pensions and a 12.6% contribution to their health-insurance premium, both of which are well below what other workers pay for benefits. Our plan calls for Wisconsin state workers to contribute half of what federal employees pay for their health-insurance premiums. (It’s also worth noting that most federal workers don’t have collective bargaining for wages and benefits.)

For example, my brother works as a banquet manager at a hotel and occasionally works as a bartender. My sister-in-law works at a department store. They have two beautiful kids. They are a typical middle-class Wisconsin family. At the start of this debate, David reminded me that he pays nearly $800 per month for his family’s health-insurance premium and a modest 401(k) contribution. He said most workers in Wisconsin would love a deal like the one we are proposing.

The unions say they are ready to accept concessions, yet their actions speak louder than words. Over the past three weeks, local unions across the state have pursued contracts without new pension or health-insurance contributions. Their rhetoric does not match their record on this issue.

Update: In case you’re already on “civility” watch, here’s a livestream from the Capitol of protesters screaming to be let into the building. According to a local reporter, windows and doors on the grounds have already been broken. Tomorrow’s “new tone” should be epic.

Watch live streaming video from theuptake at livestream.com

Update: As I write this, accused union buster Michael Moore is on Maddow’s show insisting that this means war. Meanwhile, Josh Barro of the Manhattan Institute wonders how it is that public employees in 25 other states — and in the federal government — have managed to survive without collective bargaining rights.

Update: Here’s video inside the Capitol from the same reporter who’s seeing broken windows on the building already.

Update: Ann Althouse’s husband is at the Capitol and is warning people to stay away. Quote: “ANYBODY CAN GET IN AND ANYBODY CAN BRING ANYTHING IN. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO SECURITY WHATEVER.”

Update: The same local reporter who claimed earlier that windows had been broken now says those reports are wrong.