Governor’s school safety plan may face procedural hurdles in Legislature

Legislative procedure can be complicated, and its intricacies can have a big impact on what gets passed–or not passed.  Take Gov. Walker’s call for a legislative Special Session to address school safety, for example.  Although the governor has met with legislative leaders from his own party in both houses of the Legislature, it is becoming clear that the two houses do not share a common plan of action and likely do not even agree on what a final package on school safety should look like.

Almost as soon as Gov. Walker publicly announced his intention to call the Legislature into a Special Session to address school safety, both Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) promptly issued statements expressing support for the governor’s school safety proposal.  However, a closer look at those statements is instructive.

In his statement, Assembly Speaker Vos wrote:

Speaker Vos

“I’m pleased that Governor Walker called a special session and appreciate that he and his staff worked with legislative leaders to bring forward a comprehensive package on school safety.

“Assembly Republicans feel strongly that nothing is more important than the safety of our school children. Our chamber’s plan is to take up the legislation on the floor of the Assembly next week in a one-day special session.” (emphasis added)

Pretty plainly, the Assembly plans to come back into special session to vote on the governor’s package.

For his part, Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald laid out a different strategy.  His statement said:

Sen. Fitzgerald

“Senate Republicans had a productive discussion in caucus yesterday about school safety. We are working on legislation that we plan to pass in regular session next week. I am fully supportive of what the Governor announced and our proposal will closely align with the Governor’s objectives. I look forward to ironing out details with the administration to deliver resources to schools to secure their facilities and bring peace of mind to parents.” (emphasis added)

Also pretty plainly, the Senate, at least at this point, plans to take up school safety legislation as a regular session proposal not a special session proposal.  Further, while the Senate proposal will closely align with the governor’s proposal, it would appear it will likely differ in at least some respects, although the statement doesn’t indicate how it may differ.

Why are these distinctions important?

Legally, the regular session and a special session are two separate and distinct occurrences.  The Legislature is already in regular session, although that regular session is scheduled to end next Thursday (March 22).  A special session may be called only by the governor.  It would be, in effect, a new session. The legislation that may be considered in a special session is limited to matters that are germane to the call (i.e., the proclamation calling the Legislature to convene in special session).

In order for a proposal to be validly enacted into law, the actual proposal has to go through the complete lawmaking cycle (i.e., with three separate readings in each house) in a given session, whether that is a regular or a special session.

In other words, in order to land on the governor’s desk the actual school safety bill would have to pass both houses in identical form in the same session.  If one bill passed in one house in regular session and another bill passed in the other house in special session, even if the text of both bills was identical, the bill would not reach the governor’s desk for his signature.

So, in theory at least, it is possible that both houses could pass a school safety bill—and even in identical versions—but it would still not be enacted into law.

For that reason, school leaders must urge lawmakers to come to agreement on both the provisions of a school safety bill and the procedure that will be used to enact it.  There is some serious politics being played between the two houses.  School safety and security must not be allowed to become a casualty.