A local state representative raised eyebrows recently when he proposed
reducing the Milwaukee County Board to part time status. Now, another
state lawmaker wants the Legislature to do the same. As WUWM’s Marti
Mikkelson reports, the idea is receiving mixed reaction at the state
Democratic state Rep. Leon Young of Milwaukee believes the Legislature
already functions as a part time body. He says, since inauguration in
early January, the Assembly has been on the floor only three times.
“The first day was Jan 7 when we got sworn in. Then three days later we
were on the floor debating the Assembly rules about who can carry in a
notebook or who can carry in a camera to the gallery to view the
chambers; we were debating that the second day. And then the third time
we were on the floor was Jan 15 when the governor gave his State of the
State,” Young says.
Young proposes that the Legislature meet only for the first three
months of the year and members’ annual salaries drop from nearly $50,000
to $12,000. He says he’s drafting a constitutional amendment that would
change the Legislature to part-time. Young insists he could still
properly represent his constituents.
“Other states meet the first two or three months of the year but they
still are able to represent their constituency, they still have staff
people so I think you can still effectively represent your particular
district. You can also get legislation passed. This basically
streamlines our government and saves the taxpayers money,” Young says.
Young cites a 2009 study from the National Conference of State
Legislatures. It showed that Wisconsin is one of only ten states with a
full time lawmaking body. One Assemblyman who opposes a change is fellow
Democrat, Rep. Mandela Barnes of Milwaukee. He says he puts in long
hours, dividing his time between Madison and his district.
“It’s more than a 15 or 20 hour week and often it’s more than a 40 hour
week. I attend as many community meetings as possible, interactions
with businesses, talking to neighbors, just getting their input on how
they think state government should be run and their concerns,” Barnes
Barnes says lawmakers - particularly Milwaukee’s - need to spend a lot
of time these days working to create jobs. However, one Republican
legislator likes the idea. Rep. Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield thinks
Wisconsin’s Legislature would be enriched, if lawmakers spent more time
at other occupations.
“It brings a healthy perspective to the body. In this body we have
veterinarians, we have doctors, we have CPAs, we have women who are
still raising their children, we have retired professionals. The
majority of legislators in Wisconsin consider themselves part time,”