Wisconsin Protesters Ordered Out of Capitol After Gov. Scott Walker Threatens Layoffs

Judge clears capitol building for weekend as Governor threatens layoffs.

ByABC News
March 3, 2011, 5:50 PM

March 3, 2011 — -- A judge has ordered pro-union protesters occupying Wisconsin's state Capitol in Madison to leave the building -- though the public will be allowed back inside when normal business hours resume at 8 a.m. Monday, prompting some protesters to claim a legal victory.

Judge John Albert in Dane County, Wis., ruled that people are allowed to attend hearings at the Capitol and enter the building during normal business hours, but not to sleep there overnight when it normally is closed, according to ABC News affiliate WKOW in Madison, Wis.

At least 100 protesters were in the building in opposition to proposals by Republicans that would roll back union rights for many public workers.

Republicans and Democrats, joined by the protesters, are engaged in a two-week budget standoff that has paralyzed the Wisconsin state capitol and touched off a national debate on how best to deal with growing government debt.

Earlier Thursday, Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, said layoff notices to at least 1,500 Wisconsin state workers would start going out as early as Friday if the state legislature doesn't pass a controversial "budget-repair bill" that calls for the stripping away of state employees' collective bargaining rights.

As Walker threatened layoffs, his colleagues in the state Senate filed a contempt order against 14 Democrats who fled the state and made it impossible for a new budget to pass. Republicans hold a 19-14 majority in the body, but must have 20 members present to vote on Walker's proposal.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the contempt order will compel that the 14 Democrats be "taken into custody" once they are in Wisconsin. It gives every police officer in the state the power to take them into custody and deliver them to the Senate chamber the moment they step foot back in the state.

Once the Democrats return, Republicans hope to reconvene the state Senate and pass the controversial budget.

But Democratic state Sen. Chris Larson told ABC News that Republicans "are turning Wisconsin into a police state. We are not flinching."

Other Democrats have questioned if the resolution ordering them arrested even is enforceable, although they have not challenged the order in court.

Republicans have spoken harshly of the Democrats' absence.

"The purpose of this is not to pass the budget bill. The purpose of this is to force the lawmakers to do their job," said Jim Troupis, the lawyer who was hired by Senate Republicans to draft the resolution. "The issue now is whether democracy here can work. It is a constitutional crisis."

In an interview with the Associated Press, Gov. Walker said he is negotiating with Senate Democrats to get them to return and vote.

But Walker has said he won't concede on the collective bargaining issue. The 14 Democrats have maintained that they will not come back until he does.

However, the Democrats will be fined $100 a day starting Friday according to a Republican measure passed in their absence Wednesday.