Wisconsin Assembly's all-nighters targeted

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 8, 2013 at 5:53 pm •  Published: January 8, 2013
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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — To young people, pulling an all-nighter usually involves lots of caffeine and staying up to study.

To the Wisconsin state Assembly, it's an all-too-familiar method of doing the state's business.

The new Republican speaker of the Assembly has some ideas for ending the all-night sessions, but he refused to announce what any of them were after a private meeting Tuesday with Democratic leaders. Talks were to resume Wednesday, but Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca said "we're worlds apart."

If Democrats don't go along with what Republicans want, the Assembly's debate Thursday on approving the new rules could — wait for it — go all night.

"It's not hard to get people to agree it's not good to be working at 3 in the morning," said former Wisconsin state Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer. "It's another thing to create the conditions where that doesn't happen."

Going past midnight happens elsewhere, especially at the end of sessions or as other deadlines loom. But the Wisconsin Assembly routinely pushes debates and votes on contentious bills into the wee hours, when only lobbyists and the cleaning crew are left in the building.

"Those overnight sessions are just killers," said former Democratic state Rep. Mordecai Lee. "After a while you just zonk out. I remember being in overnight sessions and I couldn't think straight."

Some other states have taken steps to rein in the late-night sessions, such as the 11 p.m. in curfew in Pennsylvania or the midnight one in Oklahoma. In Minnesota, lawmakers require a vote to work past midnight, although they still routinely do it. The New York Senate has an unofficial but strict rule against marathon sessions. But there's no such rule in the New York Assembly, where the final session days have all gone into the early morning in recent years.

The Wisconsin Assembly's late-night sessions have produced some dramatic moments. Passage of Republican Gov. Scott Walker's plan effectively ending collective bargaining for public workers in 2011 came at 1 a.m. after a 61-hour filibuster. Republicans hustled off the floor to a barrage of insults from the gallery and yells of "Shame!" from Democrats.

Other times, lawmakers have burst into song, imitated one other or just become unusually candid.

Take Rep. Gary Sherman's tirade around 4 a.m. in 2008.

"This is unprofessional. This is stupid. We have no business to be here," Sherman yelled. "There's people in this room with cancer. There's people in this room with heart disease. A third of the room has high blood pressure. There's elderly people. There's pregnant people. What the hell are we doing?"

Ziegelbauer, who served 20 years in the Assembly before retiring last year, said the late nights can be frustrating.