WASHINGTON -- Wisconsin's Democratic state senators have now been camped out across state lines for a week and a half, preventing Gov. Scott Walker (R) and their Republican colleagues from pushing through a budget-repair bill that would strip collective-bargaining rights from public employees.
Democrats have still given no indication that they're willing to come back, especially after Walker was caught admitting that he was trying to trick them into doing so. So now, Republicans are trying a new strategy: pressuring the senators' staffers.
In a motion submitted to the Committee on Senate Organization on Monday and obtained by The Huffington Post, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) proposed that while the senators remain away, all Democratic staffers must have his office sign off on their timesheets and will lose access to office copy machines:
Until further notice from the Majority Leader, timesheets of any employee appointed by a Senator who is absent without leave for 2 or more session days shall be reviewed and certified by the Majority Leader rather than the employee's appointing authority.
Until further notice from the Majority Leader, all copy machine access codes shall be deactivated for any Senator who is absent without leave for 2 or more session days. If an office requires assistance in making copies to respond to an open records request, the office may request the assistance of the Sergeant at Arms, who shall ensure that the cost of the copies is charged against the Senator's office expense account. In addition, the Chief Clerk shall charge the office expense account of each such Senator for the use of the office printers. The amount shall equal the "per click" amount the Legislature is assessed under its printer maintenance contract.
The Committee on Senate Organization has three Republicans and two Democrats, so this measure is almost certain to pass. Fitzgerald's office did not return a request for comment.
When asked what the motion's result would be, one Democratic staffer said, "I'll guess we'll just have to scan things."
There's another, more extreme measure Fitzgerald could also take against Democratic staffers: He could fire them. The Senate Majority Leader has the power to decide staffing levels in offices and could modify the existing numbers.
"It's out there, quite honestly," the Democratic staffer told The Huffington Post, though the staffer added, "I think it doesn't look particularly good for them politically, to be taking this out on staff and firing staff." Given the senators' departure and the increased interest in statehouse activity that has followed the protests, the staffer said, the importance of a strong constituent-response team has been heightened.
Under a rule adopted last week, absent senators can no longer to receive their paychecks via direct deposit. They have to go and pick them up in person on the Senate floor during a session.
UPDATE, 3:53 p.m.: People on the ground in Madison are reporting that the windows in the Capitol are being bolted shut. AFL-CIO Political Communications Director Eddie Vale writes on the union's blog:
As we speak, Gov. Scott Walker & the Senate R's are literally having the windows of the capital welded shut to keep people from passing food into the building to the people inside.
Our attorneys are collecting affidavits from the people who witnessed this, along with people who have been illegally denied access to a public, government, building.
We will be filing for a TRO [temporary restraining order] to open the Capitol.
Twitter user @ericming5 has some photos of what's going on.
UPDATE, 5:43 p.m.: The Madison Fire Department has put out a statement saying that it has not found any evidence of windows being bolted improperly:
In consultation with the Capitol Police, the Department has been advised that work on bathroom windows is being done to repair and/or replace pins that were previously in place on windows that are accessible to the public. No modifications are being made to windows in the office areas of Capitol staff.
Department personnel have been at the Capitol every day and were dispatched to check on rumors that the windows were being sealed and found no evidence that that was the case.