Thursday, February 17, 2011

Senate Democrats:Down By Law?

Rumor has it that the Senate Democrats are holed up in a motel in Rockford, Illinois. If that's so, I'm disappointed. If you're going to lam it, why not head to some place fun?

What you may ask, are the legalities of the matter? Why are they hiding? Why have they left the state? Why not simply refuse to come to work?

The Wisconsin Constitution clearly authorizes each house of the legislature to compel the attendance of members in order to obtain a quorum. Each house may do so by whatever means or penalties it prescribes. In the case of the Wisconsin Senate, the Sergeant-at-arms is authorized to "bring in" absent members.

What does that mean? Can the sergeant-at-arms have them arrested? Apparently some people are taking the position that they can be "chased" but not "arrested." That's unclear. Legislators are normally immune from "arrest on civil process" during legislative sessions but that is only while they are "in actual attendance upon the duties" of their office. These legislators are in fact ignoring - actually fleeing from - the duties of their office. We are in uncharted territory, but its not clear to me that they can't be arrested, although that would be an extraordinary thing to do.

This is probably why they left the state. The Wisconsin State Police cannot arrest them in Illinois (if that's where they are) and the law enforcement authorities in Illinois are probably only too happy to stay out of this mess.

So what to do? Here's something to think about. A quorum is normally a majority of each house. The reason that the Republicans can't proceed without Democrats here is because the budget adjustment bill is a fiscal bill and the state constitution provides that, for a fiscal bill, the required quorum is three-fifths of each house.

Ironically, though, the provisions that are most objected to by the Democrats - the prospective limitation of collective bargaining rights - are not fiscal provisions. They could presumably be put in a separate bill and passed by the Republicans with no Democrats in attendance because, for that bill, a simple majority would constitute a quorum. I'm not suggesting that the GOP Senators would or should do this. But I think that they could.


Anonymous said...

It's "separate."

Anonymous said...

8 of the 14 Democratic state senators who left the state are subject to recall.

If 2 of the 8 are recalled, that brings the number of state senators needed for a quorum down to 19.

I think it would be great for the Badger 14 to sit in a Holiday Inn Express in Pittsville, Illinois, while recall signatures are being collected back at home.

Anonymous said...

Walker intentionally called it a budget repair bill to bypass some of the process that the legislature generally uses. The bill itself doesn't correct the fiscal problems for this year (see the fiscal bureau note on that), but it did allow him to manipulate the brothers Fitzgerald.

At least as significant a part of the bill is his demand that the legislature turn complete control of state medical funding over to him. Why are the Republicans willing to consider such a step? Even Tommy! couldn't get the GOP legislators to play lapdog like that.