Layoffs coming, Wis. governor warns

MADISON, Wis. —Wisconsin's governor threatened Thursday to issue thousands of layoff notices within 24 hours if Senate Democrats who fled to Illinois fail to return for a vote on a measure that would cripple public unions, and their Republican colleagues also stepped up the pressure by authorizing police to round up the missing lawmakers.

The efforts marked the most drastic steps in the standoff that has extended more than two weeks, halting action on Gov. Scott Walker's plan to end most collective bargaining for state workers, which he says is critical to solving the state's budget crisis.

On Thursday night, a judge ordered about 100 protesters who had been spending the night there for weeks to leave, although he said they could return during regular business hours. During a hearing over access to the Capitol, police said they found 41 rounds of .22-caliber rifle ammunition scattered at several locations outside the building.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Walker said he will issue layoff notices to 1,500 state workers today if his proposal, which also would force the workers to pay more for benefits, isn't passed. Because the Senate Democrats left, the chamber doesn't have a quorum.

While Walker said he is actively working with some of the Democrats in hopes of striking a deal, he told the AP he won't compromise on the collective bargaining issue or anything that saves the state money.

"I can't take any of that off the table," he said. "We cannot tear apart this budget. We cannot put this burden on local governments. But if there are other ways they are willing to work with us to find a pathway back, I think that's what people want."

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller confirmed there were talks with Walker, but he did not think they were close to reaching a deal.

The Republican leader of the state Senate signed orders finding the 14 AWOL Democrats in contempt and allowing the chamber's sergeant at arms to use police force to detain them if necessary. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says his orders are only binding should the senators return to Wisconsin.