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Lawmakers debate procedure at Joint Finance agency briefings

Wisconsin Republicans and Democrats continue to have differences over legislative process, the latest example coming during the Joint Committee on Finance budget briefings.

Some Democrats complained Tuesday they weren’t given enough time by co-chairs Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington, and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, to ask budget questions of state department heads.

The dispute continued Wednesday, as Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, wanted to ask a final question of Department of Corrections Secretary Gary Hamblin, whom Vos already was dismissing from the briefing.

Vos said earlier he wanted to keep the proceedings moving, because Republicans had a caucus scheduled for 3 p.m. Wednesday. Lawmakers, he added, could ask further questions of department heads on their own time.

Taylor, though, said it was more important for questions to be asked in a public setting.

“I respect that I can speak to him in my office, but there’s a difference between speaking to him here, especially … it being on Wisconsin Eye. It’s a big difference,” she said.

Vos, though, said he’s trying to keep the hearings – which are spread out over more than a week – on a tight schedule, as they have been in the past.

“Because I know some people were concerned about the way things went yesterday, my staff and Sen. Darling’s staff went back and looked at the exact way these agency briefings happened two years ago to make sure we were following a consistent pattern,” Vos said.

Like in the past, Vos said, the co-chairs were limiting each department head to a 15-minute testimony and one hour of questions.

“So we’re trying to stick with that same thing to keep us moving along,” Vos said. “I’m trying to be as flexible as I can, but I’m also trying to stick with the way the rules were ran last time and operate no differently.”

Vos, though, gave in to further protest by Taylor, saying, “I’m gonna give you leeway this one time, so if you would ask the question – no statement – just ask the question, because I’d like to get moving.”

Taylor proceeded to make a statement that lasted several minutes, never getting around to a direct question.

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