The Republicans in the Wisconsin State Senate acted Thursday to hold the 14 missing Democrats in contempt after having been AWOL from the Chamber for two weeks in their standoff with the GOP and Governor Scott Walker over his proposed Budget Repair Bill. All 19 Republicans passed the resolution soon after calling the Senate to order yesterday morning. The measure called for all of the missing Democrats to return to the Senate body no sooner than 4 PM in the afternoon on March 3 and if they failed to show up, each member would be declared guilty of contempt and disorderly behavior and the Senate Sargent At Arms would be given the legal authority to use any lawful means or measure necessary to bring them back to the Senate Chamber. The Democrats, not having appeared by that 4 PM deadline, may now be subject to the actions of that resolution. The passage came on the advice of Jim Troupis, attorney for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. Troupis, a Madison attorney, was involved in a related lawsuit Wednesday when an Oconto County Judge ruled that missing Wisconsin Senator James Holperin could not be compelled by the State to return to the Capitol. Troupis, however, advised Fitzgerald that such a measure could be passed by the Wisconsin Senate to order the missing Dems back to Madison.
"It's the same as an arrest. It is an arrest," Fitzgerald said about the Senate resolution. "They have pushed us to the edge of a constitutional crisis."
Though the Dem Senators are camped out in Illinois and the Senate ruling does not cross State lines, Fitzgerald has said that he is confident that all of the Senators have been moving back and forth between their homes and Illinois and that anybody who witnesses any of them in the State can report to law enforcement and have them apprehended. The order will be in effect 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until the Senators can be compelled to appear in the Capitol Chamber.
"It's a sad day in the Wisconsin state Senate," he elaborated at a press conference after approval. "This wasn't about the bill. This wasn't about politics. This is about protecting the institution."
It remains unclear as to whether there is a true constitutionality to the order. The Wisconsin State Constitution does mandate The Senate and Assembly "to compel the attendance of absent members in such manner and under such penalties as each house may provide."
However, the same Constitution also explicitly states that legislators can only be arrested for crimes of "treason, felony, or breach of the peace" and it may be impossible to reasonably state what crimes the Senators committed.
The order is not truly an arrest because the Senators are not suspected of committing any crimes, Troupis explained to theWisconsin State Journal. Instead, the resolution seeks to enforce a legislative process.
"The Legislature has its own powers - that's the principle here," Troupis said. "The constitution is quite explicit in providing our Legislature with independent authority."
Democrats believe the Republicans are overreaching.
"The Republicans have gone around the bend," said Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee. "They've just increased their bullying tactics and are producing an even greater divide in our state."
Meanwhile, A Madison Judge on Thursday ruled that there would be no more overnight stays for protestors in the Capitol; however, the Capitol would be reopened to the public for any and all business during normal hours. Department of Administration Executive Mike Huebsh originally began restricting access to the Capitol early in the week and union protestors responded by filing the suit. Judge John Albert ruled on Thursday afternoon that the Capitol would be immediately cleared at the close of business day at 6 PM and Huebsh would have until 8 AM Tuesday morning to comply with the order.
Former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager represented the union in the lawsuit and said that the result of the ruling indicates that the protestors won the battle.
Huebsh revised the rules for Capitol access this morning. The new rules as they currently stand are:
- Visitors to the Capitol must enter and exit at the North and South Hamilton doors. Employees who display their ID's may enter at the MLK entrance
- Members of the public can enter the Capitol for meetings, committee hearings, tours or other purposes.
- Members of the public participating in a rally or protest must remain in the ground floor rotunda area.
- Carry-ins including sleeping bags, mattresses, musical instruments or noisemakers, cooking appliances and other items prohibited by the administrative code will not be allowed in the building.
- Visitors are prohibited from affixing or removing signs taped inside the Capitol. Retrieval of signs and other materials left behind can be made next week after the building is professionally cleaned.