Deal struck to avoid late night Assembly debate - Leader-Telegram: Daily Updates

Deal struck to avoid late night Assembly debate

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Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013 11:32 am | Updated: 12:07 pm, Thu Jan 10, 2013.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A bipartisan deal struck Thursday designed to avoid the Wisconsin state Assembly debating and taking votes in the middle of the night hinges on Republicans and Democrats agreeing ahead of time how long they will spend on each measure that comes up for discussion.

Leaders of both parties, standing side by side at a news conference, said the deal heralded a new day in the Republican-controlled Assembly that in recent years has been torn apart by contentious debate that frequently stretched deep into the night and devolved into lawmakers hurling insults at one another.

The first test of the agreement was to come Thursday as lawmakers agreed to limit debate on the proposal limiting debate to no more than five hours. Part of the deal also includes a target start time for debate, something the Assembly has not done. There is no proposed curfew for ending session days.

“We do not want to have all night sessions,” said the new Republican Speaker Robin Vos in announcing the agreement struck over two days of private meetings. “We do not think that is in the interest of the public. ... We do not do our best work with very little sleep, just like most Wisconsin citizens.”

Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca said that while agreement couldn’t be reached on all changes to how the Assembly operates, both sides did find common ground on major issues.

“I’m not quite ready to say that all is going to be great this session, but this is a great start,” Barca said. “We want to start a new, cooperative culture.”

It’s not uncommon for state legislatures to work past midnight, but it typically only occurs when a deadline is nearing or the session is ending for the year. But in the Wisconsin Assembly, working well past midnight happens frequently. It became even more common in the past two years during the high-tension session highlighted by the 61-hour debate in 2011 over passage of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal effectively ending collective bargaining for public workers.

The vote on that measure came at 1 a.m. and resulted in Democrats shouting “Shame!” at their Republican colleagues. One Democrat even cursed at a GOP lawmaker.

Vos, who talked for months about his desire to stop all-night debates, met Tuesday with Barca and other Democrats on a proposal. Barca said Thursday that the initial proposal included a “nuclear option,” which he did not describe but that Republicans eventually rescinded.

“To say they have me heartburn would be the understatement of the year,” Barca said of the initial Republican proposal.

Vos said that plan would be put forward for debate on Thursday, but no vote would be taken on it.

Besides having set start-times and limit on debate, the agreement also calls for minimizing the number of contentious issues scheduled to be taken up on any given day and strictly enforcing time limits on how long each lawmaker can speak.

New clocks designed to help enforce those rules were in place for the start of Thursday’s session.

Other new rules include requiring lawmakers to wear suit coats on the floor, with spares available for members to borrow if they don’t have one. Restrictions on members of the public observing in the public galleries are also being proposed, including establishing a new procedure for removing those who are being disruptive.