Last week, Governor Walker called a special session of the Wisconsin State Legislature. Ostensibly called to focus on jobs, this “Back to Work” Special Session has twenty-six points, none of which actually mention jobs. Several address tax credits and loan guarantees, some involve natural resource use, others involve regulation of the trucking industry, while yet more come straight out of the ALEC playbook dealing with reducing consumer protections in tort cases.
Democratic lawmakers were quick to comment on what they see as yet another underhanded maneuver by the Republicans to ram through unpopular legislation without sufficient public input or scrutiny.
“The agenda of roughly 30 bills that we were given by the governor includes a large number of bills that have nothing to do with job creation and should not be rushed, but rather given full scrutiny by the public, legislative service agencies and other stakeholders,” said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca. “These bills fall into two categories. First are bills on such topics as trespassing and wellness programs, which may be fine, but are not urgent enough issues to be rushed. And there are other bill ideas here that may potentially cause harm – to jobs, to consumers and to the environment – such as bills that appear to impact mining and bills that remove corporate accountability.”
Now that the content of the proposed legislation is being revealed to the public, many people are asking, “What’s so special about a special session, especially when it will run concurrently with a regular session?” As a Government Accountability Board told me, “It goes way beyond ‘How a Bill Becomes a Law’.” In special session the legislature can only deal with those subjects specifically enumerated by the governor in the special session proclamation - the twenty-six point Executive Order #45. All bills and amendments introduced in the special session must be germane to those points. When a special session runs concurrently with a regular one, the scope of business is restricted to those points and no other legislation can be introduced or passed out of committee. That means if any member had planned to move a bill forward during the fall session that is not related to those points, they are now out of luck. Wisconsin’s long-standing tradition of open and accessible government has resulted in a detailed and informative legislative website. Information on past and current legislative sessions, calendars, members, committees, bills, rules, acts, and research, as well as information about lobbying activity on each piece of legislation is available to anyone with access to the Internet.
This is the place where most Wisconsinites go to find out about public hearings and the history and process of particular pieces of legislation. However, in a special session normal rules for noticing actions and reporting on proceedings are not in force, and the website may or may not be updated. The Senate and Assembly have special session rules that state:
- No notice of hearing before a committee shall be required other than posting on the legislative bulletin board, and no bulletin of committee hearings shall be published; and
- The daily calendar shall be in effect immediately upon posting on the legislative bulletin boards. A printed calendar shall not be required.
Unless you’re at the capitol every day checking on those bulletin boards every hour, you won’t have access to what is going on in government. Too bad many of Madison’s videotaping activists are out of state occupying Wall St. and Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC – we could use them to set up live webcasts of the Senate and Assembly bulletin boards.
Speculation is rife that Scott Walker is gearing up for a recall election he’s not confident that he can win. A months-long FBI investigation into his 2010 campaign has already resulted in the conviction of one campaign donor, Wisconsin & Southern Railroad executive William Gardner, and several people who worked on the campaign and were subsequently employed by his administration have resigned or taken leaves of absences. Walker is hounded everywhere he goes in public, and he travels in a convoy with decoy vehicles loaded with security guards. Last Saturday night before the nationally televised Nebraska-Wisconsin football game, two light aircraft towing banners that read “Recall Walker” and, “Walker is a Weasel, Not a Badger – Recall Him” circled Camp Randall Stadium for over an hour. Walker’s days in office are numbered, and people are literally counting them. Every day at the Solidarity Sing Along the “days before recall petitions can begin” are counted down. Today it’s thirty-one. Calling this special session to fast-track legislation through the temporarily Republican controlled houses of the legislature may turn out to be his twisted version of a swan song.