March 2, 2011 / 12:42 AM / 9 years ago

Wisconsin fines runaway Democrats over union plan

MADISON, Wisconsin (Reuters) - Wisconsin state Senate Republicans voted on Wednesday to impose fines of $100 a day on Democrats who have fled the state to block Republican Governor Scott Walker’s plan to curb the power of public sector unions.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (C) speaks to other Republican Senate members before the start of a Senate hearing in Madison, Wisconsin, February 25, 2011. REUTERS/Darren Hauck

Republicans hope the fines will help pressure the 14 runaway Democrats into ending a standoff over Walker’s proposal, which has sparked the biggest Wisconsin protests since the Vietnam War and a national debate about union power.

All 14 Senate Democrats left the state on February 17 to prevent a Senate quorum and block a vote on Walker’s move to curtail collective bargaining rights for public employee unions. The state Assembly has already approved the plan.

The resolution adopted on Wednesday also allows Senate authorities to ask Wisconsin police to aid in finding and returning the Democrats to the state capitol in Madison.

The move came the day after Walker unveiled a two-year budget that made deep cuts in state aid to schools and local governments and slashed more than 21,000 state jobs. He also capped property taxes so school districts could not make up the shortfalls in tax increases.

Walker told a news conference on Wednesday he would be willing to compromise with Democrats on his budget, and pointed to education reforms and the spinoff of the University of Wisconsin in Madison as two possible areas of compromise.

But he made no mention of compromise on his proposal to limit the powers of public sector unions, which he says is necessary to close the state budget deficit.

A protest against the plan on Saturday drew more than 70,000 people to the Capitol grounds in the biggest Madison demonstration since the Vietnam War. Authorities have limited building access since Monday, citing safety and security concerns, a decision now under a court challenge.

The dispute has grown beyond Wisconsin as Republican-led legislatures in Ohio and Indiana also debate curbs on the power of public sector unions, which have been reliable Democratic supporters and financial donors for decades.

In the latest swipe, an Ohio state Senate panel voted on Wednesday to strip public sector unions of some collective bargaining rights and end their right to strike.

The Senate Labor Committee voted 7-5 for the measure, with one Republican and four Democrats voting against. The bill now moves to the Republican-controlled state Senate.

If endorsed by the state legislature and signed by Republican Governor John Kasich, Ohio would become the biggest U.S. state so far to enact sweeping restrictions on public sector unions.

Additional reporting by Jeff Mayers in Madison; editing by John Whitesides

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