A Democratic lawmaker has begun circulating a bill that would open to the public the private caucus meetings held by each party.
Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, circulated the bill last session but did not receive a committee hearing on it. He said he hopes the attention surrounding the surprise legislative maneuvers that passed the collective bargaining bill and the weeks of restricted access to the Capitol building would cause people to take his proposal seriously.
“What’s interesting about this issue is we require every local government meeting, like the school board or University of Wisconsin Regents, to be open to the public,” Mason said. “But we’ve cracked this one exemption for ourselves.”
Current law requires local and state meetings to be reasonably accessible to the public, but allows a private meeting if enough notice is given. Mason’s bill would delete the provision allowing partisan caucus of the Senate or Assembly to meet in private and would also invalidate any law created in a process that included private, closed-door partisan caucuses.
There’s very little deliberation on the floor of the Assembly, Mason said, and concerns have been raised that opening up caucus to the public would make lawmakers less inclined to debate matters seriously and instead choose to grandstand politically.
But Common Cause Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck said that does not have to be the case.
“The real decisions and positions taken by each side on the debate are made in closed partisan caucus but the public does not have an eye in to what’s really happening to shape public policy and that’s the problem,” Heck said. “There’s no reason why legislators should not be able to discuss how they feel and how they want a particular piece of legislation to go in the public eye”
Mason said the raw milk debate last session was an example of when lawmakers did not meet in caucus to predetermine their positions on a bill before debating it in public on the Assembly floor. He said the representatives went to the floor and actually persuaded each other based on the merits of the arguments that were made.
The bill will be in circulation for the next week.