Secrecy at the legislature

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It looks like the new Democratic leadership in the Assembly is even more secretive than usual. A very good feature piece in the Cap Times discusses how the public has been shut off from the budget proceedings.

For three minutes this spring, anyone from the public could show up at one of six hearings across the state to tell the Legislature’s budget-writing committee what they thought about the plan.

And many of the parts that were public, like voting on changes that had been worked out by committee members in secret, were done late at night far after the time publicly stated for when the action was supposed to happen.

The vote on passing the budget out of committee came around 6 a.m. at the close of a 12-hour meeting.

Another day when the committee was supposed to start at 11 a.m. they didn’t get rolling until 11 p.m.

Too true. On Friday I actually moseyed on up to the Capitol myself to try and catch some debate on the budget, but was discouraged by the Assembly clerk, who told me that there was absolutely no way to tell when the Democrats would bring the bill to the floor. It doesn’t make sense – when you go so late into the night, why not postpone the debate until the next day? At least for the sake of public accessibility. Of course, the late hours are no where near as offensive to standards of good governance as the closed door committee meetings. It is the closed caucus system that fosters party unity – aka stifles intra-party debate from the public lens.

“It is in these meetings that most of the real legislative debate occurs,” Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) wrote. “Members suss out their positions, cajole people to a certain view, and reach a general consensus. We employ shuttle diplomacy, devise strategy, and argue passionately for our respective positions. In other words, it’s where the action happens.”

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