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Wisconsin governor warns of layoff notices

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker warned today that state employees could start receiving layoff notices as early as next week if a bill eliminating most collective bargaining rights isn't passed soon.

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Walker said in a statement to The Associated Press that the layoffs wouldn't take effect immediately. He didn't say which workers would be targeted but he has repeatedly warned that up to 1,500 workers could lose their jobs by July if his proposal isn't passed.

"Hopefully we don't get to that point," Walker said.

It could take weeks or even months to lay off workers under the terms of their current union contracts.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald announced today the Republican-led chamber would pass its version of a bill cutting collective bargaining rights for most public employees. Fitzgerald said Republicans were elected to lead the Assembly in November to make deep cuts to state spending, and they will deliver on that pledge.

"When you talk about a compromise, no. We're going to make a reform," Fitzgerald said.

Senate Democrats walked out last week rather than vote on Walker's bill that would force public workers to pay more for their benefits. He also wants to eliminate collective bargaining for nearly all workers except concerning salary increases that aren't greater than the Consumer Price Index.

The proposal, designed to help Wisconsin plug a projected $3.6 billion budget hole, has led to eight straight days of massive protests that grew as large as 68,000 people on Saturday.

Security was tight this morning in the Capitol as both the Senate and Assembly were in session. Democrats in the Assembly planned to push for adoption of more than 100 amendments.

The Senate continued to be stymied in its ability to vote on the bill after the 14 Democrats walked out on Thursday, making it impossible for the remaining Republicans to take up the measure. The Democrats stayed away again today, while the 19 Republicans continued on with other business, including passing a resolution commending the Green Bay Packers on winning the Super Bowl and extending a tax break to dairy farmers.

The Senate met under the watchful eye of state patrol troopers, but only about 15 members of the public, in the galleries. The roar of protesters chanting and beating on drums just outside the Senate chamber in the Capitol Rotunda could be heard as Republicans conducted its business.

Walker and Republican leaders have repeatedly called on the Democrats, who escaped to Illinois, to return and get back to work.

Democrats have said they won't come back until Walker is willing to negotiate.

Public employees have said they would agree to concessions Walker wants that would amount to an 8 percent pay cut on average, but they want to retain their collective bargaining rights. One Republican senator also has floated an alternative that would make the elimination of those rights temporary.

Walker has repeatedly rejected both offers, saying local governments and school districts can't be hamstrung by the often lengthy collective bargaining process. He says they need to have more flexibility to deal with up to $1 billion in cuts he will propose in his budget next week and into the future.

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