Wisconsin Democrats just made a big move. The State Senate opened for business about an hour ago, and Democrats didn’t attend. Under the Wisconsin state Constitution, each chamber of the legislature needs 3/5 of the members present for votes on budgetary matters. This doesn’t matter much in the State Assembly, where Republicans have a large advantage. But in the State Senate, Republicans hold a 19-14 advantage. And 20 members are needed to conduct business on the budget.

The Republicans in the Senate want to send the State Patrol out to get the Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Dems are refusing to come to the floor to debate and vote on the bill.

Fitzgerald said at some point, if needed, Republicans will use the State Patrol to round up Democrats to bring them to the floor.

Keep in mind, police (and firefighters) are exempt from the collective bargaining restrictions in the bill, which is a nakedly cynical effort to keep some of Governor Scott Walker’s backers happy.

Protesters are packed into the Capitol, chanting, and generally causing a disturbance. But this move by State Senate Democrats might actually stop the bill for a while. Their leader, Mark Miller, released a statement:

“Democrats believe it is wrong to strip people of their right to have a say in the conditions of their employment and to use state law to bust unions.

“Over the last several days tens of thousands of citizens, young and old, union and non-union, labor and management, from every corner of the state, have travelled to the Capitol to peacefully and respectfully exercise their right to speak to their elected officials.

“These people deserve to be heard and their rights ought to be respected.

“We urge Governor Walker and the Republicans to listen to the people of Wisconsin, talk to the workers and reach an agreement that helps balance the budget while respecting their rights.”

In other very good news, Organizing for America, the campaign arm of the DNC, is actively supporting the protests, providing resources in Wisconsin to promote an attend the rallies.

More as it happens.

…As a side note: when you hear all this talk about a budget deficit in Wisconsin, keep in mind that 2/3 of all Wisconsin corporations pay no state tax.

UPDATE: The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that state troopers are out searching for Senate Democrats to compel them to return to the Capitol. However, I’m also hearing (unconfirmed) reports that many of them have left the state.

One Democratic senator said that he believed at least most of the members of his caucus are in another state. At least one, however, Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) said he was still in his Capitol office listening to constituents.

Larson just tweeted the scene outside his door. I don’t think the police could get in there if they wanted.

Interestingly, only 17 of 19 Republicans showed up for the quorum call this morning. So perhaps a couple of them were uncomfortable with the speed of the events.

UPDATE II: I covered this territory in a post last night, but it’s worth repeating that Scott Walker created the budget deficit that is now being used to take away worker rights. In other words, he “found” the deficit the way a dentist “finds” a cavity in your mouth by pressing into your tooth with a sharp instrument.

…You can get live updates on the rally from the Center for Media and Democracy.