Assembly Legislative Procedures

Recently, the Assembly Republican leadership introduced a motion that will be debated on the floor on Thursday, October 10. That resolution, AR-12, changes some of the rules that govern how the Assembly conducts its business.

In response to numerous questions about the rule changes and the implications of those rule changes, this blog post was written. This post is by no means an exhaustive look at the Assembly Rules, but instead is an attempt to help explain some of the basic changes being implemented by AR-12 if it is adopted. And in some cases, explain some of the importance of the rule or the rule change.

It is important to make clear that any changes made help whichever party is in the majority at any time, and may be changed again by resolution at any point in time in the future.

Appearance at Committee Meetings by Telephone or Other Means of Telecommunication or Electronic Communication.

Currently in the Assembly it is required that in order to be recognized in committees for the purposes of voting, a legislative member on the committee must be present. Members are not allowed to call in and attend the committee, or vote, by telephone or other electronic communication. The Senate does allow members to attend, and vote, in committees by telephone, but the Assembly does not. Rep. Jimmy Anderson asked for permission to be able to call into committees to participate, and vote, by telephone or other electronic communication because of the demands of his physical disability. This change in the Assembly Rules would allow any legislator to certify to the legislative human resources department they have a permanent disability. Once certified, the human resources confirms the disability to the Speaker and the Minority Leader, and the Speaker and Minority Leader authorize the member to participate in committee, including vote, by telecommunication or electronic communication for the remainder of the legislative session. The member is required to notify the committee chair at least two hours prior to the start of the committee that they are unable to attend, and will be participating by telecommunication.

Why is this important? This provides a member with a permanent disability the opportunity to participate fully in committee action when their disability may have prevented them from doing so before.

Establishing time limits for debate

Several sessions ago, the Assembly established a process by which the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader would negotiate debate times for legislative floor session. This process was part of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and was worked out between Speaker Vos, Majority Leader Steineke and then Minority Leader Peter Barca. The debate times were announced ahead of time, and if debate on the floor took longer than alloted debate time, debate would be cut off and votes would be taken. Both sides said it was an opportunity to focus debate and prevent the Assembly from doing overnight sessions. A new MOU has not been signed for the 2019-20 session, and while Majority Leader Steineke and Minority Leader Hintz have been able to negotiate some debate times, negotiations have stalled on completing an MOU. This change in the rules requires the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader to meet to adopt reasonable recommendations for time limits and schedules for floor debate on each proposal on the calendar. If the leaders reach agreement, the Rules Committee must publish those debate times on the calendar. If the leaders do not reach agreement, the Rules Committee must establish time limits for each item on the calendar. Those debate times must then be published on the calendar..

Why is this important? Currently if one party is unable to agree to a debate time, no debate time is set. This change allows whichever party is in the majority to determine and enforce time limits on debate on the minority party.

Reconsideration of Assembly Decisions on Vetoes

When a proposal has passed the legislature it is sent to the Governor for a signature or for a veto. The Wisconsin legislature has the authority to override a Governor’s veto, but it is required that 2/3 of the members vote to do so. If a vote is taken to override the Governor’s veto and the vote fails, the issue is over. This rule change would allow the Assembly to “reconsider” its motion on a veto, essentially giving them as many attempts as they want/need to override a Governor’s veto.

Why is this important?

#1 -The Wisconsin Assembly has 99 members. Not all members are present on session days. In Wisconsin, a vote to override a Governor’s veto only requires 2/3 of the members present, not 2/3 of the total Assembly. (Wisconsin is one of 15 states to require only a vote by the members “present” and not all the elected members.) So if a number of legislators are absent on a given day, this would change the number of votes needed to override a veto. (It should be noted that there is a lack of consensus on whether this means present as in those who answered the original role call of the day, or present as in those who are in the chambers at the moment the motion is made. The later would provide for a veto override in the same manner as done earlier this year in North Carolina when a group of legislators left the chambers for a 9/11 memorial service and the House voted while they were gone to override the governor’s veto.) If a clarification is made of this point – this will be updated to reflect that clarification.

#2 – Wisconsin has precedent going back to 1919, when the Assembly attempted to “reconsider” a failed veto override vote. In 1919, Speaker Young ruled on a point of order that a “motion to reconsider the vote by which the assembly refused to pass a bill over the objections of the governor was not in order, holding that inasmuch as the vote proposed to be reconsidered was taken in a manner provided for by the constitution, and having been thus taken, the decision must be considered final. “

#3 – If the Assembly votes to change this rule, and gives themselves the ability to reconsider a failed veto override attempt, they will essentially be allowed unlimited opportunities to attempt an override, or be given the opportunity to wait until the needed Assembly attendance is available to ensure the wanted outcome.

Dilatory Motions

Under current Assembly Rules, when the presiding officer determines that motions are being offered in an attempt to delay action, the presiding officer must declare the motions are dilatory and out of order. Two consecutive identical motions are considered dilatory if no significant business came between the motions. This rule changes the rules to allow a motion to recess for the purpose of a partisan caucus to be ruled as dilatory.

Why is this important? It prevents a member of the Assembly from repeatedly asking the same question over and over in an effort to delay Assembly action. In the past, both parties have used a request to go to caucus as an opportunity to delay the Assembly proceedings.

Call of the Assembly

At times during legislative debate legislators may leave the floor, but usually return to the chambers for the purpose of voting. However, at any time during debate, any member may request a “call of the assembly”. The purpose of a call of the assembly is to require all members to return to the chambers. This is often done because an important debate is occurring and members feel it is essential to make colleagues come to the floor to listen to debate. Currently a call of the assembly is requested and must be seconded by at least 15 other members. Once enough members second the motion, the Assembly Sergeant at Arms closes the doors to the chambers so members can’t leave, and it is the responsibility of the Sergeant at Arms to return all members to the chambers. In some instances it has required law enforcement to track down legislators who left the building to return to the Assembly chambers. This rule change allows the presiding officer to order a call of the assembly without a second.

Orders of Business

When the Assembly Rules Committee establishes a calendar for floor action, they are able to select Assembly bills, Senate bills, Assembly resolutions, Senate resolutions, and Joint resolutions for the calendar. Any item that is in the Assembly Rules Committee may be placed on a calendar. The items on the calendar are placed on the calendar based on their “order of business.” Currently the 8th order of business on any Assembly floor calendar addresses resolutions. This rule change moves the resolutions to the 13th order of business, meaning that Assembly bills and Senate bills will be acted upon prior to resolutions.

Why is this important? According to Majority Leader Steineke at the media availability on the rule changes, the resolutions (which now become the 13th order of business) are, in general, used to recognize individuals, congratulate people, or celebrate events. Steineke said these resolutions are not the “important work” of the legislature and if members need to leave session early they miss less by missing resolutions at the end, then missing the bill actions at the beginning of session. The Senate made this change earlier in the legislative session.

Withdrawing Proposals from Committee

When a proposal is submitted to the Speakers office for introduction, it is then referred to an Assembly committee. Once in committee it may receive a public hearing, and the committee chair may choose to hold an executive session to vote the proposal out of committee and send it to the Assembly Rules Committee making it available to be scheduled for floor action. When a proposal is still in committee it generally is not considered available for Assembly floor action, unless the proposal is withdrawn from a committee. Current Assembly rules state that a proposal may not be withdrawn from any committee until 21 calendar days has passed since the proposal was referred to the committee. After that 21 days, a proposal may be withdrawn from committee by motion or petition. One exception is that a “The motion to withdraw a proposal from committee is in order only on the first day in any week on which the call of the roll is taken under the first order of business. The motions shall be decided by vote a majority of the members present and voting.” Additionally, motions to withdraw a proposal are taken up on the Assembly Floor under the 13th order of business. The rule changes proposed move the withdrawal motion to the 12th order of business (before the resolutions would be considered – if they are moved to the 13th order of business as earlier discussed).

Motion to Return to Second Reading Stage

Every bill in the legislature must receive three readings on each of 3 separate and nonconsecutive legislative days.

When a legislator wants to introduce a proposal they submit their proposal to the Assembly Chief Clerk’s office. The Chief Clerk then prepares a report for the Speaker’s office and the Speaker refers that proposal to a standing committee. The Speaker has 10 days to refer an proposal to a committee. This is the “First Reading” of the proposal.

The purpose of the 2nd reading of the proposal is to consider any amendments to the proposal.

Once a proposal has completed the amending stage it must still be read a 3rd time. In the Assembly it is usual practice that the bill will be given it’s 3rd reading by unanimous consent. (Often the Majority Leader will ask, “Mr. Speaker I ask unanimous consent the bill be given its third reading.” ) If there are no objections, the bill receives its 3rd reading and the Assembly votes on final passage of the bill. Sometimes mistakes are made and the bill needs to be returned to the 2nd reading so it may be amended. Currently, when someone wants to go back to the amendable stage, a legislator will make a motion to expunge the record and return to the amendable stage. If no objection is heard, the bill returns to the 2nd reading and may be amended and read a 3rd time again and finally passed. However, if an objection is heard to returning to the amendable stage, a vote can be called for and a 2.3 vote is required return the bill to the amendable stage. The rule change proposed provides that a motion may be offered while the proposal is still under consideration to return to the 2nd reading, and the motion is nondebatable and is decided by a majority vote.

Why is this important? This changes the number of votes required to return to the amendable stage of a bill if an objection is raised to turning to the amendable stage.

Determination of Legislative Day for Purposes of Referral of Proposals to Calendar

After the Speaker has referred a proposal to an Assembly committee, but before the committee takes executive action on the proposal, the Speaker may withdraw the proposal from that committee, with the consent of the chair. The Speaker may then rerefer the proposal to another committee, to a special committee, or to the Assembly floor calendar. However, under current rules the Speaker may only refer it to the calendar for the 2nd legislative day of the week the Assembly is in. So for example, the Joint Resolution that created the legislative calendar shows that the Assembly is available for floor action on October 8, 9 and 10. Under current rules, October 8 would be the first day, October 9 the second, etc. The rule changes says “For the purposes of determining the 2nd legislative day thereafter, the Monday before a scheduled floorperiod shall be counted as the 1st legislative day.”

Why is this important? If the Assembly has chosen to only be on the floor one day of the week, the Speaker may still refer a bill to the calendar because while it is the first legislative day of action, it will now be considered the 2nd legislative day for referring purposes.

Definition of Assembly Chamber

Under current Assembly rules, the Assembly chambers are defined as, ” The entire area west of the easternmost doors of the assembly, including the visitor’s galleries, lobbies, offices of the speaker, majority leader, and minority leader, and hallways.” As Speaker of the Assembly, Rep. Robin Vos chose to utilize the space which was formerly the Majority Leaders office for staff of the Speaker’s office. The Majority Leader’s office was then moved to the first floor of the capitol located below the Assembly chambers. This rule changes the definition of the chambers to account for the fact the Majority Leader office is no longer on the second floor in the Assembly chambers.