Republican leaders in the state Legislature will fast-track legislation to make Wisconsin a right-to-work state in an extraordinary session next week.
Gov. Scott Walker, who has for months encouraged lawmakers to hold off on such a bill as he eyes a potential White House bid, said Friday that he will sign the bill if it makes it to his desk.
Why the fast-track push? And what makes an extraordinary session "extraordinary"? Here's a guide put together with help from the Legislative Reference Bureau and the rules of the state Senate and Assembly.
What is an extraordinary session?
In short, it's a session with a specific focus. Both its rules and purposes differ some from those of a regular session. Extraordinary sessions and special sessions are called to take up one or more specific topics or bills. The biggest difference between the two: a special session can be called only by the governor. An extraordinary session can be called by the Legislature and does not need the governor's approval.
Special sessions were used in the 1800s — before the Legislature started convening throughout the year — to bring lawmakers back to Madison in times of crisis. Now, both special and extraordinary sessions are used to focus on specific legislation. In the case of an extraordinary session, it's usually a bill lawmakers want to fast-track.
According to the Legislative Reference Bureau, the Legislature adopted a joint rule in 1977 allowing an extraordinary session to be called during a committee work period or after the expiration of the last scheduled floor period. Extraordinary sessions and special sessions may meet concurrently.
Why are Republican lawmakers using an extraordinary session for right-to-work?
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, discussed whether the bill should be taken up in regular session or extraordinary session and ultimately decided extraordinary session was the way to go.
"It just seemed to make sense to ... stay focused on this bill, make this what is, I would say, a very simple calendar so that there's no confusion about anything like any other bill or any other thing that we might take up," Fitzgerald told reporters on Friday. "It literally will be the only thing on this calendar."
Fitzgerald said his experience as the Senate leader has taught him, "when you have the votes, you go to the floor."
He also suggested the fast-track push was an attempt to head off a union-backed campaign to persuade Republican senators to oppose the bill.
How is an extraordinary session called?
One of three ways: 1) the direction of a majority of the members of the committee on organization in each chamber, 2) a joint resolution passed by a majority of elected membership in each chamber, 3) a joint petition of a majority of the members elected in each house.
What can happen in an extraordinary session?
Action can only be taken on the business "specified in the call by which it was authorized." In a special session, the governor can only designate subject areas for the Legislature to discuss, but an extraordinary session can be called for specific bills.
If the extraordinary session is held before the conclusion of the final general floor period, lawmakers can also introduce new legislation or consider bills that have already been introduced.
The purpose of an extraordinary session can also be expanded and supplemented in order to act on other business.
What are the rules for an extraordinary session?
Extraordinary sessions expedite the legislative process and limit the amount of time allowed for debate. The rules differ slightly between the Assembly and Senate.
In both houses, notices for committee hearings aren't required beyond posting online and on legislative bulletin boards. A schedule of committee activities doesn't have to be published.
Proposals are referred to the day's calendar and may be taken up immediately. A calendar doesn't have to be provided.
Motions to postpone proposals are not allowed and, in almost all cases, motions to reconsider will be taken up immediately. A vote from a majority of present members is required to advance a proposal to a third reading or to message it to the other house.
Under Senate rules, any point of order must be decided within an hour.
When was the last extraordinary session?
Extraordinary sessions were called in June and July 2011, related to the biennial budget.
What has the Legislature done in past extraordinary sessions?
In the past, lawmakers have considered open records laws, collective bargaining contracts, redistricting, the state budget, a constitutional amendment to allow a sports lottery and other issues.
What's the timeline for the right-to-work extraordinary session?
At 9 a.m. on Monday, the Senate Organization Committee will convene to set the calendar. The Senate Committee on Labor and Government Reform will convene on Tuesday. Public hearing will "go until it's completed," with the Senate expected to go to the floor on Wednesday. The Assembly plans to take action the following week, after the Senate passes its version of the bill.