MADISON, Wisconsin (Reuters) - Absent senate Democrats in Wisconsin are talking with the majority Republicans about possible compromises aimed at ending a stalemate over a bill to strip public sector unions of bargaining rights.
In a telephone interview with his hometown Green Bay Press-Gazette, Democratic Senator Dave Hansen said negotiations on a compromise to bring the senators back for a vote may involve preserving some union bargaining rights.
One area under discussion would allow unions to continue to negotiate on workplace safety issues and another might extend the interval between union recertification votes to two years from every year, Hansen told the newspaper.
"I'm disappointed they wouldn't give us that one (the safety issue) out of hand. It makes as much sense as anything. But we continue to discuss it and hopefully soon we'll come to an agreement," Hansen told the Press-Gazette.
"I know we won't get all that we want, but we're trying to get as much as we can."
The compromise may entail voting on the budget repair bill as is, then passing a second bill or additions to the biennial budget that would preserve some collective bargaining rights.
But Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller was quoted in the newspaper as saying the 14 Democratic senators are no closer to returning for a vote than they were a week ago.
The Democrats fled the state February 17 to deny the majority 19 Republicans a quorum to vote on the bill, which was subsequently passed by the state Assembly.
The stalled bill proposed as a deficit-cutting measure by Republican Gov. Scott Walker strips nearly all collective bargaining rights from public sector unions. It has triggered massive pro-union protests at the Capitol.
Walker said on Wednesday he was willing to compromise on some elements of his two-year budget proposal, but not on the collective bargaining issue.
Similar measures curbing union power were working their way through the Ohio legislature, where Republicans also have a majority in both houses.
In a show of unity on Wednesday, Republican senators gave a news conference to say they were firmly behind Walker's bill.
"We're all very strong on the governor's budget repair bill," said Fitzgerald, who met with some of the missing Democrats in Kenosha earlier this week.
Fitzgerald acknowledged the dispute has taken a toll on the body, and Republicans passed a measure aimed at their Democratic colleagues to levy a $100-a-day fine against senators who are absent without a valid excuse.
"The institution of the Wisconsin State Senate, I think, is unfortunately being torn apart by this bill," he said.
Once the Democrats return, Fitzgerald said he would like to make permanent changes to ensure the tactic cannot be used again.
(Reporting by Jeff Mayers; Writing by Andrew Stern; Editing by Jerry Norton)