MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin state troopers were dispatched Thursday to the doorsteps of some of the AWOL Democratic senators in hopes of finding at least one who would come back to allow a vote on a measure to curb the power of public-employee unions.
The stepped-up tactic ordered by the Republican head of the Senate came amid reports that at least a few of the missing senators were returning home at night before rejoining their colleagues in Illinois.
Meanwhile, the state Assembly appeared close to voting on the union-rights bill after more than two straight days of filibustering.
Democrats agreed before dawn Thursday to limit the remaining number of amendments they offer and the time they devote to each one. That could bring a vote later in the day on the measure Gov. Scott Walker insists is necessary to ease the state's budget woes and avoid mass layoffs.
"We will strongly make our points, but understand you are limiting the voice of the public as you do this," said Democratic state Rep. Mark Pocan of Madison. "You can't dictate democracy. You are limiting the people's voice with this agreement this morning."
The marathon session in the Assembly was grand political theater, with exhausted lawmakers limping around the chamber, rubbing their eyes and yawning as Wednesday night dragged into Thursday.
Democrats, who are in the minority, don't have the votes to stop the bill once the vote occurs.
But even after the bill passes the Assembly, it cannot become law until it also passes the Senate, where action has been stymied by the absence of the Democrats. At least one of them needs to be there in order for Republicans to take up the bill since the GOP is one seat short of having a quorum.
The Senate convened at 7 a.m. Thursday just long enough to take a roll call, which allows for the sergeant at arms staff to go to missing lawmakers' homes with police.
Troopers went to multiple homes but left after finding no one home, said Sergeant at Arms Ted Blazel.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker has repeatedly warned that if the budget bill does not pass by Friday, the state will miss a deadline to refinance $165 million of debt and will be forced to start issuing 1,500 layoff notices next week.
The governor is trying to balance a projected $137 million budget shortfall by July.
School districts have already started sending out preliminary layoff notices in case they are needed later.