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Watching the clock is a waste of time

By Matt Pommer

Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker says he favors a law limiting the hours the Legislature can work.

That is a silly idea, regardless of whether the curfew is 8 p.m. or 10 p.m.

A curfew invites the minority party — be it Democrat or Republican — to talk and talk to snarl the day’s agenda or avoid taking a vote on a bill. The minority party often wants more time to study anything it does not like.

In states where there have been time limits, the quick answer is to unplug the clock. That way the deadline is never met, and the filibustering mischief gets pushed aside. Of course, there can be editorials denouncing either the filibuster or unplugging the clock.

Interest in a time curfew followed the all-night Assembly session this year on Republicans’ efforts to boot state Rep. Jeff Wood from the Legislature because of repeated drunken driving convictions. Wood has left the Republican Party to become an Independent.

The Legislature has gone home and Wood is serving a 45-day jail term. The Assembly reprimanded Wood for his drunken driving cases. If the legislators want to stay up all night on this topic, there’s no harm done.

Sometimes, all-night sessions can produce important legislation. Fifteen years ago, the Republican-controlled state Senate balked at adjourning until it passed the bill that led to the construction of Miller Park, the Brewers’ home field in Milwaukee.

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson called the Miller Park legislation the toughest fight of his 14 years as the state’s chief executive. State Sen. George Petak, R-Racine, who cast the deciding Senate vote, was booted out of office in 1996 in a recall election.

Walker ought to know better than to get involved in the legislative curfew issue. He is seeking the voters’ approval to head the executive branch of government. The founding fathers created a government with separate legislative, executive and judicial branches.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court never would strike down legislative action on a bill that was passed after the curfew time had arrived. There is nothing in the state constitution to invalidate a law based on what time of day the Legislature acted.

Many people in Wisconsin work the evening and overnight shifts. Hospitals are staffed on an around-the-clock basis. Many of the workers end up working overtime beyond their shifts because of a heavy workload or weather that prevents the next shift from arriving.

There probably is more danger in letting nurses work double shifts than in having an occasional all-night session in the Legislature. At least no one has died because of long sessions in the state Capitol.

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

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