Assembly Votes to End All Night Sessions
State lawmakers say they want to change the rules to make government more transparent.
**Updated 10 p.m.
The State Assembly Thursday voted to end all night debate sessions in an effort, lawmakers said, to make government more open.
Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Majority Leader Scott Suder (R-Abbottsford) introduced the measure during the first full day the Legislature is in session after the November elections.
“At the end of last session, numerous constituents, colleagues and even the press talked to me about ending the overnight Assembly sessions, so that our debates could be more open and transparent,” said Vos in a written statement. “These marathon sessions don’t serve the members or the citizens of this state well.”
Leaders from both sides of the aisle signed on to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that spells out some guidelines like ending debate "at a reasonable hour" and allowing the Assembly Rules Committee to set the goals and establish the structure and timing of debates.
Last-minute amendments will also be given priority. According to the written release from Vos' office, any amendment given to the Assembly Chief Clerk by 9 a.m. on a session day will get priority attention and consideration by each caucus. The MOU also includes language about floor rules - including time limites - being strictly enforced.
“I am pleased that Minority Leader Peter Barca and I were able to sit down and thoroughly discuss ways to provide more transparency to our chamber,” Vos said. “We all agree the Assembly should improve the way we do business.”
Since the vote was taken, Patch talked to Kit Beyer, communications director in Vos' office, to get additional details to spell out some of what happened today:
- Public access to the Assembly chamber has not changed, but expected behavior is a little more formal. No hats, no reading newspapers, no photos or video recordings.
- Ending debates at a "reasonable" time is defined as "before people go to bed," which could mean around 9 or 10 p.m. The description is deliberately vague because it's really a case-by-case consideration.
- Mail-in votes applies only to the Committee on Assembly Organization, the group that takes care of administrative details for the Assembly, like approving the contract with Wisconsin Eye. Mailed in ballots can only be used with the proper public notice, Beyer said.
- A dress code for the floor of the Assembly; coat and tie for men and "appropriate attire" for women.
"Many of these rules are mirrored off those that exist in the Senate," she said.
Not all lawmakers are happy with the outcome, though. The final vote places some restrictions on citizens observing in the gallery and allowing Assembly Organization committee members to mail in their votes instead of having to be present for them.
Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Shorewood, released a statement saying she was not pleased with the final outcome, but is encouraged by the way Republicans and Democrats were able to have a robust debate without the divisiveness of the previous Legislative session.
"Both sides of the aisle set forth to do what many of us campaigned on, and what voters clearly are clamoring for – putting partisan politics aside and focusing on the needs and priorities of our communities," she said.
Barca, D-Kenosha, voiced a similar sentiment in his written statement after the vote.
“One of my top priorities is closing the skills gap so that unemployed workers have the skills employers need," he stated. "Now that the debate on rules is behind us, let’s devote at least as much energy toward working together on the people’s priorities – let’s put the people of Wisconsin back to work.”