The number of bills enacted by the Wisconsin Legislature in 2007 is considerably lower than past budget session years.
As of Nov. 30, 2007, 36 bills have been passed into law this session — 14 less than the last budget session year and 52 less than in 2003.
This relatively slow pace has evoked concern over the effectiveness of the current state Legislature, which commenced the current budget session tumultuously.
The 2007-09 state budget was signed 117 days past its initial deadline, following much deliberation and disagreement in the Legislature.
“Any bill with fiscal implications cannot be acted upon before the budget unless there is an emergency clause attached,” Risser said. “Most bills do have fiscal implications. This is just the nature of the beast, so to say.”
However, Risser does not find the low number of bills enacted to be a cause for concern. Enacting quality legislation remains the Legislature’s primary duty, with the quantity of bills passed being much less of a measure of a Legislature’s success, he said.
“It depends on what kinds of bills are present,” Risser said. “There are a number of very good bills out there, but there are also a number of bad bills out there, and one of the jobs of the legislators is to defeat the bad ideas as well as to try to promote the good ideas.”
Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, echoed Risser’s confidence in the Legislature’s rate of productivity. To Suder, the reduced output of bills is illustrative of the effort and time spent outlining the state budget, as “it took a little longer, but I think that just shows just how important the state budget is.”
As for the remainder of the year, Suder expects “a lot of activity come January until the end of May” in the Legislature.
Suder downplayed the effect of partisan differences on the Legislature’s productivity, saying “I don’t think it’s fair to blame one party or the other.”
Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause Wisconsin, a nonpartisan reform advocacy organization, views the issue differently. While he agrees passing quality legislation is the Legislature’s primary concern, he believes partisan and special interests are inhibiting the passing of quality legislation.
“It’s obvious, we have a split government, from the Republican-controlled Assembly to the Democrat-controlled Senate,” Heck said. “Wisconsin has become a very partisan state government where there’s not a lot of middle ground.”
Consensus is difficult to reach in a divided Legislature, and Heck points to ideological disagreement and concern over the upcoming election as reasons the state government has failed to enact more meaningful legislation to reform the state’s health care plan, its property tax and better fund public education.
“There is no desire on the part of legislators to come up with solutions,” Heck said. “Wisconsin used to be known as the state where people came together in spite of special and partisan interests to get things done to benefit the state. We’ve fallen.”