April 23, 2021 – As May draws near, there is no greater anticipation in Wisconsin than warmer weather, greener grass and the State Capitol’s tulips sprouting from their winter hibernation. The sign of tulips also means the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) is about to begin the biennial budget process, a four to six week journey in re-writing Governor Evers’ biennial budget proposal.
This year’s budget process will be like much of the previous pandemic year: different.
Three Statewide Public Hearings Held – One Virtual
In previous budget cycles, the JFC traveled around the state usually at four to seven different locations to hold public hearings. This year, travel was limited to three hearing sites; Whitewater on April 9th, Rhinelander on April 21st and Menomonie on April 22nd. Additionally the committee will hold one virtual hearing on Wednesday, April 28th. On Monday, April 19th details on the registration process for the virtual hearing were announced and all 200 hearing registrations were filled within minutes of opening.
State Bar Members Can Engage in Advocating on Budget Proposals
The budget’s public hearing process is an opportunity for the public and members of the State Bar to express their support or concerns on specific items contained in the Governor’s budget proposal. If you were not one of the lucky few to register for the virtual hearing, members can still submit written testimony or comments for the committee’s record on the Joint Finance website, https://legis.wisconsin.gov/topics/budgetcomments, or by emailing them to email@example.com. Keep in mind as you prepare any comments, written or oral, because the budget is such a large and wide-ranging policy document, it is important to keep messages short and to the point.
Cale Battles, is a government relations coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. He can be reached by email, or by phone at (608) 250-6077.
And while testifying in person or submitting comments to the Joint Finance Committee is an excellent avenue to share what matters to you, the best way to have your voice heard is by engaging your elected legislator. You can do this through a personal phone call, an in-person meeting, sending an email or writing a letter.
The State Bar’s Advocacy Center makes contacting your legislators as easy as possible. With just a bit of information and only a few minutes, members can submit comments on one the State Bar’s current advocacy campaigns on Supporting Investments in the Justice System, Civil Legal Needs Funding or Expungement Reform. Members can also compose their own message on whatever issue of concern or support currently in the legislature.
A few other tips when contacting legislators:
Get to Know Your Legislator – Developing a good relationship with your elected official will help when contacting them when you support or oppose a legislative issue.
Effective Communication – Personal stories and individual experience is always the most effective way to get your message seen and read. Making a brief phone call, requesting a quick personal meeting or writing a personal letter/email are always a best practice. Again our State Bar Public Affairs staff is always available to walk through these processes, facilitate or attend meetings and serve as a resource to members.
Stay Informed of Developments – Subscribe to the State Bar’s Rotunda Report and Inside Track, join the State Bar’s Advocacy Center, follow @SBWRotundaRpt on Twitter and always feel free to contact State Bar Public Affairs staff with any questions.
In addition to direct outreach with your legislator, some are also holding listening sessions in their districts, which they promote on their social media pages, so keeping an eye out for those and attending when possible is another avenue to share what is important to you.
If members have questions on specific budget items or on how they can best contact their elected officials, please contact one of the State Bar’s Government Relations Coordinators, Lynne Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org, Cale Battles at email@example.com or the State Bar’s Grassroots Coordinator Devin Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What Happens Next in the Budget Process?
Once the public hearings are complete, voting on individual provisions of the budget will begin in early May, with a possible final committee vote in early June. The Legislature will then debate and vote on the proposal in late June or possibly into July.
What You Can Do: State Bar of Wisconsin Advocacy Network
State Bar members are encouraged to send a message to their lawmakers expressing support on legislative topics which positively affect the legal system using the Advocacy Network. The pre-written email message is editable to suit your own thoughts and opinions, and will help to demonstrate the breadth of support for policies that prioritize access to justice.
You can also subscribe to the Rotunda Report and follow us on Twitter to stay informed and get involved in the legislative process.