Lame Duck Session on Contract Approval Would Be Second Ever in State History, First in 36 Years

Partisan Transfer of Power Adds Further Intrigue

MacIver News Service | December 1, 2010

[Madison, Wisc…] If the current Democratically-controlled state legislature were to meet in a special or an extraordinary session this month to approve more than a dozen contracts with government employee unions, it would be nearly unprecedented. Only one time in the 162-year history of the State of Wisconsin has a lame-duck legislature approved such agreements, when one contract was approved in November of 1974.

“As far as we have been able to determine, only one post-election session has dealt with employee contract ratification,” said Michael J. Keane of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau in an email to the MacIver Institute. “A contract for AFSCME Council 24 was ratified by Chapter 341, Laws of 1973 in November 1974.”

The controversial  2009-2011 agreements, negotiated by the Doyle Administration and 19 collective bargaining units, must be ratified by the legislature’s Joint Committee on Employment Relations and the full legislature as well. In most cases, the agreements between the State and the public employee unions also require the ratification of the rank and file union members. While union members are in the process of reviewing and approving the agreements, full details of the contracts have not been released to the legislature or the public, prompting Republicans to worry about their contents.

A post-election or lame-duck session has added significance this year. In 1974 then-Wisconsin Governor Pat Lucey (D)  was re-elected with 53 percent of the vote, and Democrats maintained control of the Assembly and gained control of the State Senate. This fall’s election saw a complete partisan turnover of control of the Governor’s office and the state legislature.

Democratic leaders in Madison, who lose control of the legislature and the Governor’s office on January 3rd, are pushing for a special or extraordinary session to be held yet this month.

Earlier this week, Wisconsin Governor-elect, Republican Scott Walker, has sent a letter to legislative leaders requesting they hold off on approving new state employee contracts until his Administration has time to evaluate their impact on the state budget.

“In light of the State of Wisconsin’s current fiscal year $150 million budget shortfall and impending $3.3 billion structural deficit, returning and newly elected officials are going to need maximum flexibility to craft and work through our current and next state budget,” Walker wrote in the letter to current Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker (D-Weston) and his replacement, current Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau). Current Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan (D-Janesville) and incoming Speaker, current Assembly Leader Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) also received the letter from the Governor-elect.

Special and extraordinary sessions are similar in that they are called solely to consider one or more specified topics or pieces of legislation. A special session is called by the governor and an extraordinary session is initiated by the legislature.

From details that have been released regarding the unions’ approval process, such a session would have to occur in a three week period between December 11, 2010 and January 2, 2011.