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Wisconsin Democrats flee state to block passage of anti-union bill

Associated Press, 2/17/11

From the Associated Press
February 17, 2011, 1:41 p.m.

Wisconsin Sen. Jon Erpenbach said Democrats, after seeing massive protests, fled to delay consideration of the bill in the hopes that Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers would discuss changes.

A group of Wisconsin lawmakers blocked passage of a sweeping anti-union bill Thursday by ignoring orders to attend a vote. Instead, they left the state to force Republicans to negotiate over the proposal.

As ever-growing throngs of protesters filled the Capitol for a third day, the 14 Democrats disappeared from the Capitol. They were not in their offices, and aides said they did not know where any of them had gone.

Hours later, one of them told The Associated Press that the group had left Wisconsin.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach said Democrats fled to delay consideration of the bill in the hopes that Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers would discuss changes.

"The plan is to try and slow this down because it's an extreme piece of legislation that's tearing this state apart," Erpenbach told the AP in a telephone interview.

He refused to say where he was. Other Democratic lawmakers sent messages over Twitter and issued written statements, but did not say where they were.

Republicans hold a 19-14 majority in the state Senate, but they need at least one Democrat to be present before taking a vote on the bill.

As Republicans tried to begin Senate business Thursday, observers in the gallery screamed "Freedom! Democracy! Unions!" Opponents cheered when a legislative leader announced that there were not enough senators present to proceed.

Authorities said an estimated 25,000 people participated in Thursday's protest, and nine demonstrators were arrested.

The proposal marks a dramatic shift for Wisconsin, which passed a comprehensive collective bargaining law in 1959 and was the birthplace of the national union representing all non-federal public employees.

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