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Wisconsin lawmakers begin talks on deal

Protesters gather outside the state Capitol as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker delivers his budget address to a joint session of the legislature at the state Capitol on March 1, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin. Walker's budget proposal includes $1.5 billion in cuts in aid to public schools and local government but does not raise taxes or fees, or include furloughs or widespread layoffs. UPI/Brian Kersey
Protesters gather outside the state Capitol as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker delivers his budget address to a joint session of the legislature at the state Capitol on March 1, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin. Walker's budget proposal includes $1.5 billion in cuts in aid to public schools and local government but does not raise taxes or fees, or include furloughs or widespread layoffs. UPI/Brian Kersey | License Photo

MADISON, Wis., March 2 (UPI) -- Wisconsin legislators have begun talks to end the state budget standoff, a Democratic state senator said Wednesday.

Sen. Tim Cullen, one of the Democrats who fled to Illinois to block a vote on a bill that would strip collective bargaining rights from public unions, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald drove to Kenosha Monday to meet with him and another Democrat.

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Cullen said Fitzgerald refused to amend Gov. Scott Walker's "budget repair" bill, which revokes public employees unions' collective bargaining rights, but the two sides talked about adjusting the larger budget bill to address the issue.

Fitzgerald said Tuesday "eight or nine" of the 14 fugitive Democrats want to return, but they said they are determined to stay away until Walker backs off.

Meanwhile, authorities vowed to keep protesters out of the Capitol building in Madison, even though a judge ordered them to allow public access during business hours.

State Department of Administration officials said they wouldn't open access to the Capitol any more than they already had, asserting they were in compliance with Dane County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Moeser's order.

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Moeser's temporary restraining order, in response to a union lawsuit, will be argued in a different courtroom Wednesday after a court hearing Tuesday.

Department of Administration lawyer Steven Means argued Tuesday before Judge John Albert that Moeser's order held no legal weight because it was vaguely written and cited no specific cause of action. He defended Walker's policy, saying case law allowed state officials to make reasonable limitations on the time, manner and place in which citizens can access the Capitol.

Protesters packed the courtroom, with those unable to get inside watching a live feed on TV screens in the courthouse basement, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Access to the Capitol was tightened this week and remained restricted Tuesday, with a line of police from throughout the state standing between thousands of chanting protesters and one of the Capitol's entrances, the Journal said.

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