heating_bf_416

BRYAN FAUST/Herald photo

State Assembly Republicans convened in a skeletal special session on energy assistance Tuesday morning, adjourning hours before Democrats were able to arrive and express their support.

In a similar fashion, a skeletal group of senators met at the previously scheduled time, but adjourned before taking any action.

Of the 37 Democrats in attendance, many expressed disappointment in the Republican absence from the scheduled session and delivered criticism from the podium usually reserved for the Assembly Speaker.

"I'm very disappointed that an entire side of the legislative chamber is failing in its duty," Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, said. "Legislators are paid to do a job and when they are called into session … it is the job of the Legislature to be there … whether they support the legislation or [not]."

Tuesday's session followed last week's call by Gov. Jim Doyle for the Legislature to consider a package providing $6 million in emergency home heating assistance to low-income families.

While Democrats supported the governor's call, Republicans voiced opposition and questioned the special session's necessity.

According to Christine Mangi, spokesperson for Assembly Speaker John Gard, R-Peshtigo, Republican leaders fulfilled their duties by convening in skeletal sessions but ultimately decided a full session was unnecessary — especially when regular session had already been scheduled for next Tuesday.

"We felt there was no need for a special session on home heating assistance," she said. "That's just purely a political stunt. We've certainly allowed for an increase in home heating assistance this year by millions of dollars."

But Democrats countered Republicans are not doing enough to help Wisconsin families, calling the party's lack of support a case of misplaced priorities.

According to Rep. Marlin Schneider, D-Wisconsin Rapids, key Republican Gard put his congressional campaign before his constituents struggling to pay their heating bills.

"What is so disappointing about this is that the reason that we're not convening is because the Republican leadership is in D.C. meeting with lobbyists for fundraising purposes, while the people of this state will be shivering," Schneider said from the Assembly podium.

However, Mangi disputed the charges and said the Speaker was in Appleton Tuesday morning.

Before Tuesday's mock session, key Democrats held a press conference, expressing their hope Republicans would acknowledge their obligations and attend session.

"I'm hoping that because it's Valentine's Day the majority party will have a heart," Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, said.

In response to the Republican absence, Doyle held a press conference at the Capitol Tuesday afternoon.

"The Republicans of the Legislature based on my call could have passed this bill today … but unfortunately, they decided to put it off for another week," Doyle said. "That is disappointing news for 30,000 hardworking Wisconsin families."

While Democrats continue to question Republican values, some GOP leaders are suggesting Tuesday's session was nothing but a political ploy designed capitalize on partisan politics.

"I think that [they are] playing politics and are put[ting] a bright shiny object out there for people to take their focus away from some of the administration's current problems as far as ethics and contracting concerns," Todd Allbaugh, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, said in an interview last week.

The package was introduced in the Joint Committee on Finance Tuesday afternoon, where it awaits executive action.