Every two years a new legislative session begins.
In adherence to Article 4 Section 8 of the Wisconsin State Constitution which reads, “Each house may determine the rules of its own proceedings,” both the state Assembly and state Senate address rules governing their respective bodies.
Immediately after opening the 2013-2014 biennium, Republican and Democratic Assembly leadership worked in tandem to draft new rules and a memorandum of understanding designed at structuring floor debate.
Last term was mired in marathon floor sessions lasting as long as 63 hours.
Delay cloaked the proceedings from public viewing.
Instead of transparency, partisan caucuses oftentimes lasted until after midnight with debate and votes on the Assembly floor occurring in predawn hours while Wisconsinites slept.
To ensure remaining on topic without endless repetitions, new guidelines established include setting time limits to floor debates.
Much of the pandemonium experienced last session could have been avoided had these rules been in place.
Before scheduling a floor session, the Majority Leader and Minority Leader will consult to set the structure and time frame for debate on each issue.
Unless agreed to by the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader, there will be a minimum (note minimum) of 30 minutes set aside for debate on final passage of each bill.
Last session, both sides of the aisle practiced stalling measures such as reciting Dr. Seuss books.
Structuring debate time on each bill will discourage dilatory and partisan pandering practices therefore enabling a healthy exchange of ideas.
A dress code will require male members wear a coat and tie and female members wear appropriate attire mirroring the standard set in the state Senate.
Since 1995, Senate Rule 8 Section 1 has stated: “Members, officers and employees shall wear appropriate attire while the senate is sitting in session. Appropriate attire for men includes the wearing of a coat.”
Rules on behavior will be extended to the viewing gallery as well.
Visitors will be expected to remain quiet, act in an orderly manner and respect the decorum of the chamber.
No individual in the gallery may engage in any behavior which expresses support or opposition toward any issue.
Visitors will not be allowed to record, photograph, film, videotape or in any way depict assembly floor proceedings.
Additionally, there can be no leaning over the balcony, use of laptops, electronic tablets, cellphones or pagers.
Food and drink will not be permitted.
Without exception, debate on the floor is between legislators.
Observation galleries are exactly that – meant for observation.
Public input and participation are encouraged in individual committee hearings before a bill is docketed for floor debate.
Setting decorum rules for the gallery facilitates legislators to do what they were elected to do – act as a conduit of their constituents’ voices.
Signed bi-partisanly by the leaders of the state Assembly, the Memorandum of Understanding will foster a healthy debate.
Ultimately, managing the debate structure will enhance the Assembly’s effectiveness and transparency.