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In a nutshell

Currently, Democrats and Republicans in the state Legislature can meet privately as a group because they are not subject to the state open meetings law.

While some party caucus meetings are open, lawmakers closed much of their discussion about the recently approved state budget.

Now a bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to lift the exemption and require the party caucuses to meet in public.

The case for it

Supporters say the bill, called AB 143 in the Assembly, is needed to provide more transparency to the workings of government, particularly when lawmakers are writing a new budget.

"I don't think many people have confidence in a product that emerges from secrecy," said Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin. "It's bad for the process and ultimately bad for the legislators because people ask, 'What are you hiding?' "

Heck also said it is "incredibly irritating" for lawmakers to exempt themselves from a law they require other government entities to follow.

The case against it

Some lawmakers say letting party caucuses meet in private allows for frank discussions of key legislation.

"Russ does not support AB 143," Carrie Lynch, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, said in an e-mail. "Sometimes informal discussions in caucus really help and no vote taken in caucus has ever amended or passed a bill."

A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, said Sheridan would discuss the bill with other Assembly Democrats "before determining future action."

To get involved

To contact your lawmaker to oppose or support the bill, use the legislative hot line, which is staffed from 8:15 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. weekdays; call 800-362-9472 or 608-266-9960. To send an e-mail, log onto the Legislature's Web page at www.legis.state.wi.us, select Senate or Assembly, and follow the link to the e-mail directory.

Democratic leaders Sheridan and Decker can be reached at 608-266-7503 and 608-266-2502, respectively. Republican leaders Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, and Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, can be reached at 608-266-2540 and 608-266-5660, respectively.

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