Legality of Budget Bill Conference Committee Should Be Investigated

Contact: Jay Heck, (608) 256-2686

Legality of Budget Bill Conference Committee Should Be Investigated

In an unprecedented action that shocked Wisconsin and the nation last night, State Senate Republicans voted 18 to 1 to pass the controversial budget repair bill by “stripping” away the monetary elements of the legislation and therefore negating the need for 20 votes to consider the bill, Discussions to plan and accomplish this action were held entirely behind closed doors and out of public view by Republican legislators and Governor Scott Walker on Wednesday before moving to clear their action in Conference Committee and in the State Senate – with only Republican Senators voting.

Serious questions about compliance with Wisconsin’s open meetings laws are raised by this action. A Conference Committee of the State Senate and State Assembly leadership was held with far less than 24 hours advance notice to the public that the conference committee would occur. Republicans claim that because the State Senate was in Special Session, that simply posting a notice prior to convening the Conference Committee was all that was required. But that contention is in serious dispute.

Common Cause in Wisconsin calls on the independent Wisconsin Government Accountability Board to meet immediately in emergency session to determine the legality of last evening’s unprecedented action. The Attorney General of Wisconsin and the Dane County District Attorney already have the responsibility to investigate this matter. All of them should act immediately to investigate and inform the citizens of Wisconsin of the legality of last evening’s action.

Outside of those who planned this shocking and unprecedented action — including Republican legislators and their staffs and Governor Scott Walker and his office — no one in Wisconsin knew this was going to happen in advance. The action is an assault on the right of Wisconsinites to know what their elected representatives in the Legislature and the Governor are doing prior to acting. It is an affront to Wisconsin’s 173 – year – old tradition of open and transparent state government.

All Wisconsinites also need to ask why Republican legislative leaders, with the complicity of Governor Walker, opted to act in this secretive and shocking manner. Did they fear that the citizens of this state would not approve of their action if it was taken in the light of day, with sufficient public notice? No doubt, many would have. But even more Wisconsinites should be outraged about the manner in which major public policy, with implications for our citizens for years to come, was undertaken last evening.

The Government Accountability Board, the Attorney General of Wisconsin and the Dane County District Attorney should take immediate action to determine the legality and validity of the actions taken by the Conference Committee last night.