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How About a Part Time Wisconsin Legislature?

Marti Mikkelson
WUWM NEWS | Feb 1, 2013

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 capitol.
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 says.
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,” Kooyenga says.