Caucus bill resurfaces
MADISON Many of the names have changed, but a bill that would make Wisconsin legislative caucuses open to the public is back in essentially the same form it has taken twice since 2009.
Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, recently signed on as a co-sponsor of a bill that would force the state Legislature to deliberate in public. The open meetings law does not apply to partisan caucuses of the state Senate or Assembly, and Kolste said the bill would end that exemption.
Under current law, the members of the Assembly and Senate routinely meet in private to discuss legislation. That often means decisions take place secretly in the majority party caucuses, Kolste said.
"The act of legislating takes place in secret," Kolste said. "The debate on the floor of the Assembly is largely symbolic, and the votes that take place are foreordained in the caucus meetings.
"I don't know how the Legislature can exempt itself from a law that applies to every other governmental unit in the state. That's not how democratic government is supposed to work."
Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, and Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, first offered the bill in 2009.
It failed to pass and was reintroduced in 2011 before being shot down again in March 2012.
Mason and Kaufert again circulated the bill in recognition of Sunshine Week, a national initiative to discuss open government and freedom of information.
Kolste said she doubts the measure would pass the Legislature on its third go-round, but it's the principle of the legislation that's important, she said.
"We were talking about this in the Rotunda the other day," Kolste said. "I was defending the bill, and some others were saying, 'We need the ability to be able to talk in private.'
"I said: 'About what?'"