MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin state troopers were dispatched Thursday to the doorsteps of some of the AWOL Democratic senators in hopes of finding at least one who would come back to allow a vote on a measure to curb the power of public-employee unions.
The stepped-up tactic ordered by the Republican head of the Senate came amid reports that at least a few of the missing senators were returning home at night to pick up clothes, food and other necessities before rejoining their colleagues in Illinois.
Meanwhile, the state Assembly appeared close to voting on the bill after more than two days of filibustering.
Democrats agreed before dawn Thursday to limit the remaining number of amendments they would offer and the time they would devote to each one. More than 12 hours after the agreement was announced, Republicans voted to cut off discussion on all amendments.
Democrats planned to spend several more hours railing against the measure that Gov. Scott Walker insists is necessary to ease the state's budget woes and avoid mass layoffs.
Democrats urged Republicans to accept a compromise that would keep collective bargaining intact.
"We all know there is an impasse. There is one person who can end this impasse, and that is Gov. Walker," said Democratic Assembly Leader Peter Barca as the debate reached its 53rd hour. "This state has never been more divided in the last 25 years. … It's the governor's job to unify the state."
But Republicans summarily rejected every Democratic amendment in the marathon session, which unfolded as grand political theater. Exhausted lawmakers limped around the chamber, rubbing their eyes and yawning as Wednesday dragged into Thursday.
The Senate convened at 7 a.m. Thursday, just long enough to take a roll call, which allows for the sergeant at arms staff to go to missing lawmakers' homes with police.
Troopers went to several homes but left after finding no one home, said sergeant at arms Ted Blazel. Wisconsin law does not allow police to arrest the lawmakers, but Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he hoped the show of authority would pressure them to return.
Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who was in the Chicago area, said all 14 senators remained outside of Wisconsin and would not return until Walker was willing to compromise.
Walker, in a Capitol news conference, repeated his warning that if the budget bill does not pass by today, the state will miss a deadline to refinance $165 million of debt and will be forced to start issuing layoff notices next week.
The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, however, said the debt refinancing could be pushed back to as late as Tuesday in order to achieve the savings Walker is seeking.
Wisconsin's measure would forbid most government workers from collectively bargaining for wage increases beyond the rate of inflation. It also would require public workers to pay more toward their pensions and health insurance. Police and firefighters would be exempt.