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Wisconsin Citizens Expect the Opportunity to Weigh-in on Legislation

Another day-long public hearing takes place Monday in Madison on the right-to-work bill. State law does not require such hearings; they're tradition.

Wisconsin citizens have come to expect the chance to testify on proposed laws, according to Mordecai Lee, professor of Governmental Affairs at UWM.

"It’s deeply embedded in the Wisconsin political culture that we’re the good government state, we’re the clean government state; we’re the state that is open for public participation, Lee says.

Lee says the practice of inviting citizens to share their opinions about possible laws, goes back to around the turn of the last century, when “Fighting” Bob La Follette became the state’s 20th governor and pushed for public involvement in politics.

"It was really that corner turning moment 100 years ago when it became an assumption that the state legislature was an open institution rather than a closed institution taking orders from influence peddlers behind the scenes, Lee says.

Lee says the tradition of inviting people to comment took root and has since become an integral part of the legislative process in Wisconsin.

Do legislators listen? Lee says it may not seem so, in today’s polarized political climate.

"I guess you’d say we’re living in a binary era; in the sense that there are Republicans and Democrats and all Republicans think one thing and all Democrats think another thing and never the twain shall meet," Lee says.

Yet, Lee says, even the rushed ending of public hearings hold significance.

"Really the last couple of hours aren’t particularly helpful, but it’s the leaf in the La Follette tradition that everybody who wants to have their say should get to have their say." Lee says.