Wisconsin Senate Republicans find missing Democrats in contempt, threaten arrest

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March 3, 2011

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the actions of the Democrats "have pushed us to the edge of a constitutional crisis"

MADISON, Wisconsin: In their latest attempt to compel the return of the 14 Democratic senators who fled to Illinois, Wisconsin Senate Republicans passed a unanimous resolution today finding the missing legislators in contempt and threatening them with arrest. If they do not return by 4pm, the resolution orders the sergeant-at-arms to take "any and all necessary steps, with or without force, and with or without the assistance of law enforcement, by warrant or other legal process, as he may deem necessary in order to bring that senator to the Senate chambers."[1]

The constitutionality of the resolution remains unclear, however, as the Wisconsin Constitution only allows for the arrest of legislators while in session if they are suspected of committing a felony, treason, or breach of the peace. Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, said the resolution was an "unreasonable abuse of police power."[2] Wisconsin officers also can not legally cross state lines to apprehend the legislators.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach provided the Democratic response, stating, "All 14 of us remain in Illinois, very strong in our convictions. Issuing arrest warrants at 4 p.m. isn't going to solve the problem. This is a debate about protection of the middle class in Wisconsin; that is what the Republicans should be focusing on."[1]

The move by Republicans comes the day after they issued fines of $100 a day for not showing up at the Capitol, along with taking away parking spaces and deleting accounts.[3] Last week Republicans also passed a rule suspending direct-deposit of paychecks. Sen. Erpenbach found a way around this by granting power of attorney to two of his aides, giving them power to, among other things, pick up his paycheck. In the end Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald mailed the check to Erpenbach.[4]

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