AWOL Democrats From Wisconsin, Indiana Flock to Illinois

Illinois has become a haven for Midwestern Democratic lawmakers fleeing their states to stall votes on Republican-backed bills restricting union rights.

Fourteen senators left Wisconsin last week for the Chicago area to prevent the quorum needed to vote on a bill limiting collective bargaining for public employees. Most of Indiana’s Democratic House members are in Urbana for the same reason.

The absent lawmakers have no plans to return today, B. Patrick Bauer, the Democratic House minority leader, said in a conference call today from the Comfort Suites in Urbana. The state party is paying for the lodgings of the 37 House members who left, he said.

“It’s never been seen before in this state,” Bauer said. “You’ve never seen this kind of class war.”

States face deficits that may reach a combined $125 billion in the next fiscal year. Republican governors including Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Ohio’s John Kasich and New Jersey’s Chris Christie are trying to change rules for collective bargaining and worker contributions for health care and pensions to manage costs. Labor leaders call the bills “union busting.”

In Indiana, Republicans hold 60 seats in the 100-member House, so the Democrats’ walkout prevented the two-thirds quorum. Democrats are blocking a bill that would restrict collective bargaining for teachers and one that would keep employers and unions from negotiating contracts that make non-union members pay for labor representation.

Rattling the Glass

In Indianapolis, Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma demanded that fist-shaking demonstrators leave the gallery this morning. Later, when the House session resumed, protesters pressed against the glass chanting “go home.”

The Wisconsin Democrats will remain out of state until Walker drops his efforts to restrict collective bargaining, Senator Mark Miller, the Democratic leader has said. Unions have agreed to accept increased payments for health-care and pension costs in the bill, he has said.

State employees could begin getting notices of possible firings if the senators don’t return, Walker said at a news conference in Madison.

“They should be doing the jobs they were elected to do,” he said. “If we don’t pass the bill by the end of the week, for us that means at-risk notices would have to go out, and ultimately that would affect 1,500 individuals.”

Quiet in Columbus

Ohio’s Statehouse was quiet today after an estimated 5,500 people demonstrated against a bill that would eliminate collective bargaining for state workers and limit negotiations to wages only for local employees.

Senate Republicans have agreed to amend the bill to allow state workers to have the same bargaining rights as local workers, said Senator Shannon Jones, the bill’s sponsor. Another change would prohibit strikes by all public employees, she said. Currently, only police and firefighters are barred from striking.

The delay tactic being used in Wisconsin and Indiana isn’t possible in Ohio, which requires a simple majority to vote on bills. Republicans hold 59 of the 99 House seats and 23 of 33 in the Senate.

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