June 12, 2023 – As the biennial budget process winds to a close, the legislature is buzzing with activity as each government agency and various stakeholders work to advocate for their portion of the fiscal pie. With so many issues, agencies, and specific interests involved, the budget season can be overwhelming for legislators, legislative staff, the press, lobbyists and Capitol watchers. And though the legislature will slow down in summer, fall will bring renewed activity as several existing bills resume legislative action while many new bills are introduced. For those unfamiliar with the process, it can be frustrating to keep up with state government happenings.
Explaining the Legislative Calendar
To keep up with the legislature, it helps to first understand the session calendar. One of the initial items that legislators vote on is a joint legislative resolution that establishes the calendar of both the Senate and the Assembly for the two-year session. The calendar was established with the passage of
Senate Joint Resolution 1, which outlines the 15-month general business legislative session. The calendar is seasonal and in four specific segments: spring session in odd year (January-May), budget passage (June/July), fall session in odd year (September-November) and spring session in even years (January-March).
Devin Martin, is the grassroots outreach coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. He can be reached by
email, or by phone at (608) 250-6145.
The legislature’s website lists the
calendar dates as approved by the joint resolution, as well as a
visual calendar. It is important to note that the legislature will not meet on all the dates set aside for the year, but they cannot meet outside of those dates.
Outside of the legislature’s floor session, public hearings and executive sessions can be scheduled at any time, typically with about one week’s notice, and most often occur midweek. This stage is the precursor to floor action and is provides an opportunity for public participation in the legislative process. Notice of these hearings is posted on the legislature’s
committee schedule site.
The public can follow along and watch the Legislature in action. State Bar members and citizens can access information in real time and track any legislative action. Below is a helpful guide with links on how members can research and follow state government.
Watch the Legislature in Action
WisconsinEye is a television and internet broadcasting service airing video from legislative floor sessions, committee public hearings and news interviews. The site archives previous broadcast footage and is searchable by committee or date. The
Rewind: Week in Review, and
Daily Morning Minute highlight pressing current political issues or topics of statewide interest. WisEye can also be found on some cable providers, including Charter Channel 995 and 363.
For Capitol watchers who want to learn more about lobbying and the lobbying efforts of interest groups, the Wisconsin Ethics Commission (WEC) has created the Wisconsin
Eye on Lobbying website. Lobbying principals and registered lobbyists must report any lobbying activities that they have conducted on legislation, budget matters or administrative rule, which are then posted on the WEC’s lobbying website in real time. Lobbying principles and registered lobbyists also must submit reports every six months as to the time and cost of these efforts.
Two sites that are a daily must-visit for politicians and lobbyists are the Wheeler Report and
Wispolitics.com. Both focus on aggregating state political news, but also post news releases, events and daily Capitol schedules.
Wisconsin Legislative Homepage
state Legislature’s Home Page contains a wealth of information on current and previous session legislative action. The Assembly and Senate post session calendars and committee schedules. The site also allows citizens to search any legislative proposal or topic introduced.
The Wisconsin Legislative Notification Service is also located on the home page. This service allows anyone the ability to track a specific bill, topic, administrative code, committee action or legislation introduced by an elected official. Users can request weekly or daily email notifications when any legislative action occurs.
State Bar Advocacy Information
The State Bar’s Advocacy and Access to Justice and Communications Departments will continue to offer up-to-date information on legislative and court developments through the rest of the 2023-2025 session. Members can subscribe to the
Rotunda Report, which is an e-newsletter that focuses on the State Bar’s legislative issues. The State Bar’s
InsideTrack newsletter also frequently features articles on legislative developments and in-depth articles from members on the impact of recent law changes.
State Bar’s Grassroots Advocacy Network
Launched in 2019, the State Bar’s grassroots Advocacy Network continues to grow our outreach efforts to members and encourage lawyer participation in the legislative process. The perspectives, experiences, concerns and expertise of attorneys has a significant impact on the legislative process, and coordinated and sustained engagement leads to better policy outcomes for the legal profession and for access to justice. The recent major
investments into the criminal justice system by the Joint Finance Committee were possible in large part because of the grassroots efforts of State Bar members all across Wisconsin.
You can learn more about top priorities and take action by sending a message to your legislators at
Advocacy Network Grassroots Toolkit
New for 2023, the
Advocacy Network Grassroots Toolkit is an online and printable resource for members who’d like to learn to how become effective legislative advocates. Whether advocating for your clients, your profession, or for policies that improve access to justice for all, the Grassroots Toolkit is a great way to learn why and how to communicate with your elected officials. Combined with
printable one-page factsheets of State Bar policy positions and personalized help from State Bar Grassroots coordinator
Devin Martin, the prospective grassroot advocate has everything they need to drive forward positive legislative action. Those individuals, local bars, and law firms that are the most effective advocates have the opportunity to be recognized as “Advocacy Ambassadors” by simply documenting their efforts and submitting them as per the Toolkit guidelines.