February 9, 2016

Few details emerge on Assembly rules changes

Leadership from both parties met behind closed doors Tuesday afternoon to discuss possible rules changes for how the state Assembly will operate this session. Members emerged from the talks in the early evening and said an agreement has not been reached yet, but they plan to continue discussions before the rules are taken up during a floor session planned for Thursday.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has indicate he wants to change the rules to help return civility to the chamber and also limit a long-standing practice of debates that run through the middle of the night. Vos says he believes there is an agreement that they don’t want to be there “days on end,” although both sides indicated they have not reached common ground on how to accomplish that goal.

Details of the proposed changes have not been made public.

Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) agrees with the idea of ending sessions days that stretch through the night, but says he does not want to see changes that could limit debate on important issues. The Kenosha Democrat says he does not want them to start the session in a “rancorous manner, where we feel like we’re just worlds apart.”

Leadership met in the Speaker’s office for several hours Tuesday, but Vos and Barca emerged after reporters questioned whether the gathering violated the state’s open meetings law. A quorum of the rules committee appeared to have been present in the Speaker’s office for most of the discussions. Both lawmakers maintained the talks were legally taking place, since the issues being discussed would not go before the rules committee.

Republicans hold a majority in the Assembly, giving them the option of passing whatever rules they want. However, Vos says he wanted to reach out to Democrats to talk about how the chamber will operate. He says they are “trying to be adults” and “see if there are areas of common ground so we can work together to achieve our mutual goals.”

The Assembly is expected to vote on a rules package when lawmakers come to the floor on Thursday, although it remains unclear if the package will be one fully supported by Democrats.

AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (1:12)

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