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Editorial: Agreement should end marathon Assembly sessions

8:27 AM, Jan. 11, 2013  |  Comments
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We're not sure what you're like at 4 a.m., but the Press-Gazette Media editorial board is exhausted and, hopefully, asleep. It's not debating proposed laws that will affect every resident of this state. In fact, we're pretty much sure that anything said or done at that time is open for revision after a good sleep.

With that in mind, we applaud the Assembly for agreeing to end all-night legislative sessions.

On Thursday, Assembly leaders announced they'd reached agreement on a Memorandum of Understanding that they hope "will set a new bipartisan tone for the 2013-2014 session."

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, signed the memorandum, along with seven other representatives from both parties.

The Assembly faced pressure from constituents, peers and the media "about ending the overnight Assembly session, so that our debates could be more open and transparent," Vos said in a statement Thursday.

We hope this works because the Legislature will soon begin debate on a new biennial budget. If the past is any indicator, we were heading for more 3 a.m. votes and delay tactics that forced legislators to keep hours better suited to the undead. The Assembly was up until 3 a.m. back in June 2011 before it approved the last state budget.

That wasn't the first time, nor was it the last.

In February 2011, the Assembly approved Gov. Scott Walker's contentious budget repair bill in the wee hours of the morning. Granted it was a bill that was debate-worthy as it sought to end collective bargaining for most public workers, but legislators who are up all day and all night can't be counted on to make their best decisions or points or to act civilly.

Just last March, the Assembly debated all night until the early morning hours before passing bills limiting insurance coverage for abortions and requiring schools to teach abstinence. They didn't even get to mining and venture capital bills that were on their agenda.

The ultimate goal is to "finish debate at a reasonable time."

We agree with that sentiment, but we hope it doesn't also stifle debate. The memorandum says: "When the agreed upon time frame for debate has expired on a bill, the Majority Leader may make a motion to dispense of all the remaining amendments. Every effort will be made to consider all amendments."

This will require true leadership on the part of the majority leader when dealing with the minority party. Otherwise, we fear, the spirit of bipartisanship evident in this memorandum will be lost and the Legislature will making important decisions when it would be better off sleeping.

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