Wis. Senate Clerk: Only Notice Required for Committee Meeting Was Posting on Bulletin Board

Questions have been raised whether the 2-hour notice given of the Wisconsin Senate committee meeting was adequate. Rob Marchant, the Clerk of the Senate issued this statement (tip to Wheeler Report):

There was some discussion today about the notice provided for the legislature’s conference committee. In special session, under Senate Rule 93, no advance notice is required other than posting on the legislative bulletin board. Despite this rule, it was decided to provide a 2 hour notice by posting on the bulletin board. My staff, as a courtesy, emailed a copy of the notice to all legislative offices at 4:10, which gave the impression that the notice may have been slightly less than 2 hours. Either way, the notice appears to have satisfied the requirements of the rules and statutes.

Since the Clerk is relying on Senate Rule 93, it’s worth a look. The provision is a special rule for special sessions, which tend to be more focused in topics and more time pressured in duration. Rule 93 in part provides:

Senate Rule 93 (2)
(2) A notice of a committee meeting is not required other than posting on the legislative bulletin board, and a bulletin of committee hearings may not be published.

Senate Rule 93 (3)
(3) The daily calendar is in effect immediately upon posting on the legislative bulletin boards. The calendar need not be distributed.

Senate Rule 93 (4)
(4) Any point of order shall be decided within one hour.

On its face, this rule would seem not to require even a 2-hour notice, just posting on the bulletin board, which is how the Clerk interprets it. This is consistent with the emphasis on speed implicit in several parts of Rule 93. Yet it is possible one could instead read the rule as merely covering the method of notice, not the timing of it, but I think that reading is neither the literal one nor the intended one.

The Wisconsin Open Meetings Law [see 2D update below] has an exception for inconsistent legislative rules so that is unlikely to come into play.

BTW, the best place to follow the legislative news in Wisconsin is The Wheeler Report.

UPDATE: Barry Pump raises another issue.

2D UPDATE: Here is the relevant provision of the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law:

19.87 Legislative meetings.
This subchapter shall apply to all meetings of the senate and assembly and the committees, subcommittees and other subunits thereof, except that:

(1) Section 19.84 shall not apply to any meeting of the legislature or a subunit thereof called solely for the purpose of scheduling business before the legislative body; or adopting resolutions of which the sole purpose is scheduling business before the senate or the assembly.

(2) No provision of this subchapter which conflicts with a rule of the senate or assembly or joint rule of the legislature shall apply to a meeting conducted in compliance with such rule.

3D UPDATE: Some commentators have suggested that the conference committee was a joint conference committee, involving Assembly members as well Senators [and it was]. Yet the Assembly has the same language in its own Rule 93, so I don’t see how that alone would change things.

I’d have to say that the legislature could do a better job of informing people of exactly what was done and under what legal authority.

4TH UPDATE: Representative Peter Barca’s complaint is online. One issue he raised caught my eye, and I certainly have no explanation for it: The bill was taken to a joint conference committee BEFORE it was passed by the Senate, when usually it must pass both houses before being sent to conference.

5TH UPDATE: A member of the nonpartisan staff of the legislature explained the last problem for me.

Joint Rule 3 provides in part:

Joint Rule 3 (1)
(1) In all cases of disagreement between the senate and assembly on amendments, adopted by either house to a bill or joint resolution passed by the other house, a committee of conference consisting of 3 members from each house may be requested by either house, and the other house shall appoint a similar committee. At least one member from each house shall be a member of the minority party.

There are two possible readings of this provision. Under the one apparently employed by the legislature and endorsed by at least parts of its nonpartisan staff, a conference can be called without a vote in the Senate first. If the Senate has a “disagreement” (i.e., a majority of senators disagree) with an “amendment, adopted by either house” (here the Assembly), the Senate can request a conference on a bill passed by the other house (here the Assembly, which had passed Assembly Bill 11 after amending it).

Under the second possible reading, the amendment causing disagreement has to have been adopted by the house other than the one that passed the bill. Under that reading, before the Senate could request a conference, it would have had to pass an amendment to the Assembly bill, which it did not do before the request.

My guess is that the second interpretation (not the first) was intended, but the first interpretation is also consistent with the language of the rule.

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