Patience has worn thin in Madison with the fleebaggers. After Wisconsin’s Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald attempted to negotiate an end to the impasse over the budget-repair bill and got rebuffed, Republicans took a much tougher stance this afternoon. Accusing Democrats of holding democracy “hostage,” the Senate passed a measure giving absent Democrats until 4 pm today to appear — or face charges of contempt that could result in their detention by law enforcement:
Republicans in the state Senate ordered Democrats on Thursday to return to the chamber by 4 p.m. or be found in contempt of the Senate – a move that means Democrats could be taken into custody.
“We simply cannot have democracy be held hostage because the minority wants to prove a point,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau).
Senate Democrats have been out of the state since Feb. 17 to prevent passage of GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill. At least 20 senators must be present to pass the bill, but Republicans hold just 19 seats.
Fitzgerald said that Republicans were initially “nervous” about taking such a step but that Democrats have created a “constitutional crisis.”
“This is not about a budget-repair bill or about politics,” Fitzgerald said. “This is much bigger than that and the minority party has forced our hand… They’re insulting the very fabric of our representative democracy.”
Fox 6 in Madison says this is not quite the same as issuing warrants, but it’s the step just prior to it:
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says the action is legally different from an arrest, but “definitely a shift from asking them politely.”
The resolution says the absent Democrats are determined to be guilty of contempt and disorderly content. It gives the sergeant at arms the authority to take any and all steps, with or without force and assistance from police, to bring the senators back.
The action comes after Democrats rejected an offer to debate the provisions of the budget-repair bill in the next full-budget bill:
Sen. Tim Cullen of Janesville, one of the two Democrats at the meeting, said Fitzgerald made clear in the talks that Republicans would not alter their budget-repair proposal, which passed the state Assembly last week. But Cullen said the two sides talked about adjusting the larger 2011-’13 budget bill to address problems that Democrats and unions have with the budget-repair bill.
“Some of the provisions in the budget-repair bill don’t go into effect for months, so you could change them in the budget bill,” Cullen said.
Cullen declined to cite the exact provisions. He said that the two Democrats had made an offer to Fitzgerald and the GOP lawmaker had made a counteroffer that Fitzgerald had talked about with both Walker and his brother, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon).
Cullen said he saw the counteroffer as a positive development but that it “wasn’t sufficient.” He said that he didn’t tell other Senate Democrats about the meeting beforehand but did afterward.
This raises a serious question of whether law enforcement will cooperate with the legislature. They have acted professionally in keeping the capital grounds and building open during the protest and protecting the legislators — those who bother to show up, that is. But their unions have already expressed support for the demonstrations in Madison, and even apart from that, may be reluctant to execute warrants in a political dispute.
Either way, it shows that the GOP has decided that Democrats won’t negotiate an end to the impasse, but instead believe that their minority caucus can and should dictate outcomes to the majority without engaging in actual representative democracy. This standoff will clarify even further the “hostaging” of democracy by Democrats in Wisconsin.