BY LAUREL PATRICK OF THE WISCONSIN REPORTER – MADISON — After the Assembly’s early morning “yes” vote Friday  on Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill, the Senate met to inch forward on the same proposal that seeks to repeal most collective bargaining rights from public employees.

Still missing their 14 Democratic colleagues who fled the state last week in an effort to stymie the bill, Republican senators moved the bill to third reading, where it can no longer be amended.

Many senators stood up to commend the Assembly for passing the bill early Friday morning. But Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, stood to show his disappointment with the missing senators.

Schultz earlier this week had submitted a compromise amendment calling for reinstatement of collective bargaining rights in 2013. He said he was hoping to achieve bipartisan support but the absent Democrats were blocking the process.

“Without the minority party here today, I simply am unable to function in a way that is meaningful for the people in my district,” he said.

During a news conference following the Senate session, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he and his members are still continuing to research how they can move forward if the Democrats don’t return. Fiscal bills, such as the budget repair bill, require 20 members for a quorum. That forces the majority Republicans to need at least one Democrat present to vote.

However, Fitzgerald said he hopes unusual measures will not have to be taken for the vote, and that the Democratic senators return.

But a debt-restructuring deadline looms tentatively on Tuesday, and Fitzgerald said the possibility of layoffs are real. By April 1, 12,000 state and local employees could get pink slips if the budget repair bill isn’t passed soon, he said.

Looking to the weekend, Fitzgerald said the Senate is ready to take up the bill if the Democrats show up.

“If I get a phone call from (Senate Minority Leader) Sen. (Mark) Miller saying we’re going to be back on Saturday morning, Sunday afternoon, Monday morning, we’ll be here, absolutely,” he said.

Fitzgerald said the Senate will negotiate terms for the length of floor debate, so if and when the Democrats do return, any Senate debate on the budget repair bill will not reach 61 hours, as it did in the Assembly.

And while the Assembly may have adjourned, some members are still at work after this morning’s early vote. Assembly Minority Leader Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, told the media late Friday he is looking into possible rule violations regarding the relatively short 17-second roll call for the vote.

Clearly there were serious rules violations. We’re looking into whether they are legal and constitutional violations as we speak,” Barca said. “The violations were that first of all, in order to get to the vote to shut down debate as they wished, you have to pose two different questions, and we’re not certain that both questions were posed before them and then there’s other considerations as well.”

Barca also said the quick vote could be an indication that Republicans thought they were losing votes as the night wore on. Barca said he is hoping representatives who were not able to get their vote out in time will be releasing statements on how they intended to vote.

Fitzgerald, however, said he has no concerns about how the vote went through the lower chamber and believes its validity will be upheld.

Walker’s budget address is still scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Assembly Chamber. It’s still unknown when the 14 Senate Democrats will return.

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