By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON –A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel piece earlier this week noting the rise of “secretive ballots” in the Legislature isn’t as sinister as it sounds, according to the Senate clerk.
And the author of a controversial mining bill contends there will be nothing secretive about the movement of his legislation.
Sen. Tom Tiffany, R- Hazelhurst, insists there have been no paper or emailed ballots cast on substantive mining regulation reform.
“All I can speak to is this mining issue, where we’ve been fully transparent,” said Tiffany, chairman of the Senate Committee on Workforce Development, Forestry, Mining and Revenue.
Senate Chief Clerk Jeff Renk tells Wisconsin Reporter that none of the 20-plus times the Senate Organization Committee has voted using paper or emailed ballots this session have involved mining bill language.
The committee has voted on travel requests related to the mining bill, but nothing related to the nuts and bolts of the legislation, the clerk said.
Renk could not provide a definitive number, but he said there were 18 Senate Organization Committee paper ballot votes as of last week, and another “handful” this week.
“(Paper ballots) are mostly used for administrative things, for travel requests, spending money out of office accounts,” Renk said. The practice, used by Republicans and Democrats over the past four years, is regarded as a convenience to lawmakers spread throughout the state.
Earlier this week, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story, headlined “Secretive paper ballots regaining hold in Wisconsin Legislature,” reported the “comeback” of a form of lawmaker voting that some say keeps the public in the dark.
Critics complain that legislative organization committee agenda items, bound by the standard 24-hour notice requirements, are only posted on the Senate and Assembly bulletin boards, not on the Legislature’s website as other committee meeting notices are.
“Last session, the Senate took 320 (total) committee votes that way, including some on controversial bills such as limiting liability lawsuits, putting new restrictions on abortions and removing the enrollment cap on a long-term care program for the needy,” the Journal Sentinel reported.
Renk said the process really isn’t secretive, and it’s all within the law. He notes there are times when setting the Legislative calendar is done within a couple hours’ notice, but that, too, is within the confines of Wisconsin’s open meeting law.
“Public notice of every meeting of a governmental body shall be given at least 24 hours prior to the commencement of such meeting unless for good cause such notice is impossible or impractical, in which case shorter notice may be given, but in no case may the notice be provided less than 2 hours in advance of the meeting,” states section 19.84(3) of the law.
Renk said there were no paper ballot votes on mining legislation last year.
Of course, paper ballots and committee meetings are public domain. What goes on behind Wisconsin’s closed door party caucuses is another political sausage-making matter entirely.
Asked if the Senate will use paper or emailed ballots to vote on the mining bill in the weeks ahead, Tiffany said, “I have no plans for that.”
Contact Kittle at firstname.lastname@example.org