- Associated Press - Thursday, February 4, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature last year passed the state budget in the middle of the night, a practice Democratic Rep. Beth Meyers of Bayfield wants to halt.

Meyers is circulating a bill to amend Assembly rules to require debate on the budget bill during “normal waking hours” when Wisconsin residents can easily observe the proceedings. Majority and minority leaders would define normal waking hours, and the bill would require the Assembly to stop until the next legislative day whenever a debate reaches the end of that time frame.

“It makes sense to have democracy performed during waking hours when more people can be aware of what’s going on at the Capitol and they can feel like they participated in the actions that are taking place,” Meyers said.

Meyers said “normal waking hours” can be defined using common sense, but any time before 11 p.m. could be standard.

The Wisconsin Assembly passed last year’s budget in the early hours of a Thursday morning, after a two-hour delay for a bomb threat at the Capitol and more than 12 hours after debate began. The Senate passed the budget just before midnight two days earlier, after eight hours of debate. Typically Democrats are the ones responsible for dragging out budget votes; since the GOP controls both houses, all Democrats can do is delay votes by extending debate for hours.

Assembly majority and minority leaders have already established a memorandum of understanding for the legislative session aimed at more productive debate. It includes a provision that “every effort will be made” to finish debate at a reasonable time and stipulates the majority and minority leaders will negotiate a time frame for debate on each bill.

“I think that they really have taken steps to ensure a more productive debate and more public participation,” said Kit Beyer, spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

Beyer said this is the second session that such an agreement has been made in the Assembly and it aims to cut down on some customary practices of long or unproductive debates. The memo includes 17 points emphasizing prompt start times, time limits on debates and objections to breaking for caucus.

Meyers wants to take that further by prohibiting budget debates late in the night.

“No bill, no matter what the issue, should be debated and brought to the floor in the middle of the night when most people are asleep and unable to observe the process,” Meyers wrote in a memo soliciting co-sponsors.

The bill has little chance of advancing in a Republican-controlled Legislature.

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