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Wisconsin Deal Allows for Assembly to Vote on Union Bill

Wisconsin Assembly Democrats agreed to limit debate and allow a vote today on a bill restricting collective-bargaining rights for public employees, while state Senate Democrats continue to stall the measure.

Assembly Democrats agreed to offer only 38 more amendments, one for each member, and restrict debate on each to 10 minutes, said Eric Bott, a staff member in Republican Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald’s office. That should allow a vote on the bill this afternoon, Bott said in a telephone interview.

“The Republicans basically told us we’re going to shut you down or you can offer 38 more amendments,” Representative Kelda Helen Roys, the minority caucus chairwoman, said in a telephone interview.

The bill, championed by Republican Governor Scott Walker, has sparked days of worker protests at the Capitol in Madison. It would require public employees except police and firefighters to pay 5.8 percent of their salaries for pension costs; they pay nothing now. They would have to foot about 12 percent of their health-care premiums, up from 6 percent.

The measure is intended to address a budget deficit projected at $137 million in the current fiscal year and $3.6 billion in the next biennium, Walker has said.

Asking for Money

Two potential Republican presidential candidates entered the dispute today on Walker’s side. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said his political action committee would send $5,000 to the Wisconsin Republican Party, and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty sent an e-mail to supporters asking them to sign a petition to back Walker.

The Wisconsin Assembly had been debating the bill since Feb. 22 with Democrats offering amendments to delay it. The Senate has been unable to vote since last week, when 14 Democrats left the state for Illinois to prevent a quorum and stall a vote.

The Senate convened at 7 a.m. today to allow sergeant at arms employees to go to the homes of missing lawmakers with police, the Associated Press reported. Scott Fitzgerald, the Republican Senate majority leader, said he hoped the tactic would pressure them to return, the news service said.

“Every night we hear about some that are coming back home,” Fitzgerald said. Democratic Senator Jon Erpenbach said all 14 senators remain out of state and won’t return today, according to the Associated Press.

Unions were planning “the largest day of demonstrations outside of Madison in Wisconsin’s history” today, Eddie Vale, AFL-CIO political communications director, said in an e-mail.

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