GRAYSLAKE, Illinois (WKOW) -- Absent Democratic Senators holed up in Illinois expressed outrage at Wednesday's move by Senate Republicans to separate drastic changes to public employee collective bargaining from a budget bill and pass the new legislation in the state Senate.
"I'm beyond words," Senate minority leader Mark Miller (D-Monona) told WKOW 27 News reporter Tony Galli.
"They had an agenda , they were going to do it no matter what," Miller said, as he rejected republican claims that recently released e-mails between Republicans and Democrats showed there had been negotiations over resolving this legislative impasse. Miller said the e-mail traffic reflected preliminary ideas that went nowhere. Governor Walker has blamed Miller for scuttling possible compromises.
"They went far too far," Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison) said. Risser, 83, the state's longest serving lawmaker in its history, said he believes Republicans may have broken laws in the way they conducted a conference committee on the separate, collective bargaining bill, and the manner of its senate passage.
Ten of the 14 absent senators gathered at a location in a city forty miles from Chicago and ten miles from the Wisconsin border. It's been nearly three weeks since senators fled Wisconsin to prevent the Senate reaching a quorum of senators to consider the budget repair bill. The quorum of 20 senators was needed because the bill dealt with fiscal matters, but the separate legislation created on the collective bargaining did not have to meet that same threshold.
Miller said it was time for the absent Senators to return to Wisconsin to advocate against what happened with public employee collective bargaining, to object to proposed, significant cuts in state aid to education and other programs, and to help recall efforts mounted against some of the Senators who voted for the bill. Miller and other Senate Democrats also face possible recall.
Sen. Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point), who is seven months pregnant, said she and her unborn daughter are in good health. Lassa said she was prepared to stay away from Wisconsin for as long as it took to address the need to preserve collective bargaining rights for public employees.
Miller would not pin down a time for the return of the Senators. Last week, Republican Senators issued warrants of detention against the missing Senators, allowing any law enforcement officer to bring them to the state capitol if they were observed anywhere in the state.
"There are considerations involved in our return. We must make sure of our personal safety."
Miller and other senators said their extraordinary, controversial step of fleeing the state was worthwhile in exposing the details of Walker's near-elimination of public employee collective bargaining rights and what Miller says are other alarming aspects of his budget plans.