Just Sayin'

Paul Adair is a 21-year Germantown resident, retired scientist, writer, and lecturer.

Our Whac-A-Mole Legislature

Wisconsin, Political

The scene just keeps repeating. The Wisconsin legislature proposes a totally outrageous bill- for example, ending Open Records requirements for politicians or allowing the destruction of Indian mounds. State editorial boards decry the idea. People call and write and visit their Representatives in an attempt to stop it. If there is enough public outcry, some of the worst of the bills are quietly shelved by sending them back to committee to die.

In the meantime, while the public is distracted, many other dreadful bills of equal atrocity are slipped through the legislative process and become law.

The process reminds one of the arcade game, Whac-A-Mole TM. In that game, a board contains five holes. At random intervals, a pretend mole hops out of one or more holes. If you are alert and fast enough, you can score points by hitting a mole with a mallet before it disappears. However, the moles come and go so quickly that you cannot possibly knock-down every mole that pops-up. While your concentration is on one mole, many others evade your attention and go unscathed.

The state GOP leadership is quite adept at this game of pushing an overwhelming number of bills to advance their extreme agenda. Sure, some are knocked down, but many others become law. They are shamed into abandoning a few ideas, but codify many others. It's a cynical numbers game.

The last several days of the current legislative session were indicative of this strategy . According to State Senator Vinehout (D-Alma), at least 254 bills passed the full Assembly or Senate in only three days. There was certainly no time to allow a reasonable floor debate on each one, let alone to allow affected Wisconsin citizens to react to each bill. There was a self-imposed rush to get these these bills through because the Assembly does not plan to meet for the rest of the year. The State Senate will only meet for one day in March.

The biennial budget bill is another place where political Whac-A-Mole TM is played with relish. Since a state budget must be passed, lawmakers take this as an opportunity to reward donors and to push pet issues that could not pass on their own merits. A shameful 157 non-fiscal items were sneaked into the massive state budget passed last July. Of these, 139 survived to become policy. One hundred thirty-nine items became state law with little scrutiny or debate.

The political Whac-A-Mole TM game could theoretically be used for good. It could be used to better the lives of Wisconsin residents. It could be used to improve our schools. To modernize our infrastructure. To increase the number of family-supporting jobs.

But no. The Whac-A-Mole TM game as played by the Wisconsin GOP leadership has done none of these. Instead, it has resulted in the imposition of an odorous pile of laws that simply do not reflect the traditions or values of our great state. They worked tirelessly to lock-in their own power. They found a gazillion ways to reward big-money contributors. The mechanisms of a once clean government have been dismantled. A regressive social agenda has been implemented.

But there is a sliver of hope to lessen the impact of the Whac-A-Mole TM game our legislators love to play. For example, an angry State Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay) asked the governor to veto every one of the non-fiscal items in the last state budget. He said that these items should receive more public input and review by lawmakers. Of course, that did not happen.

And bills (SB 648, AB 329) were introduced by the Democrats to eliminate non-fiscal items from future state budgets. Despite having 35 sponsors, those bills were not even allowed to leave committee. They never got a floor vote.

The laws passed by our state legislature affect people's live in profound ways. Each new proposal deserves an appropriate amount of citizen input and floor debate. New rules should not be jammed through by the hundreds in just a few days. New non-fiscal regulations should not be hidden in dark corners of a massive state budget. Bills that cannot pass public scrutiny on their own merits should never become law.






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