Government

State Government

The Wisconsin State Legislature – A very brief background

The Wisconsin Legislature is made up of 33 State Senators and 99 State Representatives.  All 99 of the representatives are elected every two years.  State Senators serve four-year terms, with one half of the members standing for election every two years.

Each Senate District is made up of three Assembly (Representatives) Districts.

Currently, the both the Senate and the Assembly are controlled by the Republicans.  In the Assembly the Republicans have 59 Representatives and the Democrats have 39 (there is currently one open seat where a special election will be held soon and a Republican will win).  In the State Senate there are 18 Republicans and 15 Democrats.

The leader of the majority party in each house has broad powers including:

  • Deciding what committees will exist
  • Deciding the number of people and political make-up of each committee
  • Appointing chairs of each committee
  • Approving membership on committees
  • Overseeing what bills are referred to which committee
  • Deciding when the body as a whole will convene to do business
  • Deciding what issues the body will be able to discuss when it convenes discussion

In the Assembly the leader is called The Speaker of the Assembly.  This position is held by Representative Robin Vos (R-Burlington).  In the Senate the position is called the Majority Leader and is held by Senator Scott Fitzgerald (R – Juneau).

Each member of the legislature serves on one or more committees that focus on certain issue areas.  Members of the Republican Party chair all committees and have a majority of members from their party on all committees.

How the Legislative Process Works – in Brief

Proposals to make changes to the state laws can be introduced by any member of the legislature.  Once a concept has been drafted into a written proposal it becomes known as a Bill. Each Bill is given a number based on the order in which it is introduced beginning each session with Bill 1.  Bills introduced by a member of the Assembly are referred to as Assembly Bills (AB for short) and Bill introduced by members of the Senate are called Senate Bills (SB).  Each house begins its numbering at 1 each session, so the first bill introduced in the Senate is called SB 1 (in the Assembly it is AB 1).

The person who introduces the bill is called the author or sponsor of the bill.  Generally members of the legislature circulate their ideas among their colleges and try to get other people to sign onto their bills as co-sponsors.  The purpose of this is that it show the bill has broader support.  Most Bills have sponsors in both houses of the legislature, but it is not a requirement.  The Author of the Bill is always the member who is listed first after the words “Introduced by” on the top of any Bill.

In order for a Bill to become law it must get the approval of both houses of the legislature and be signed by the governor.  While the process can take many shapes, most bills follow the steps below, with Assembly Bills beginning the process in the Assembly and Senate Bills starting in the senate:

  1. Bill is introduced and given a number
  2. Bill is assigned to a Committee
  3. Committee holds a hearing on the Bill (if Chair of the committee want to)
  4. Committee votes on the Bill (if Chair of the Committee wants to)
  5. Bill is sent to the Rules/Organization Committee making it available to be scheduled for a vote of the Assembly or Senate, if this committee decides to do so (generally the decision of the leader of each house)
  6. Bill is voted on by the Assembly or Senate
  7. Bill then repeats stems 2-6 in the other house of the legislature
  8. Bill is sent to the Governor
  9. Governor Signs Bill into law or vetoes (kills) the Bill

While there are many procedural ways to alter this general process, for most bills if they do not win a majority vote at any stage they are dead.  As you also can see the Leadership in each house and the Chairs of committees also have the power to stop a bill’s progress by simply refusing to take action.

Most Bills that are introduced do not become law.  In the last Session of the legislature 1,391 Bills were introduced and only 286 of them became law.  In Wisconsin there is only one Bill each year that must pass, the State Budget, which unlike other Bills is introduced by The Governor.

The Governor - A few Key Points.

The Governor of Wisconsin heads the state’s Executive Branch.  As noted above he has the final say in whether a Bill becomes a law, but he also has many other powers.  Most of state Government, with the exception of the Legislature and the Judiciary, works for the Governor.  Seventeen different agencies are considered departments.  Health Services and Workforce Development are two of the departments that you may likely have contact with in your daily operations. 

Each Department is headed by a Secretary appointed by the Governor.  These positions make up the Governor’s Cabinet and are empowered to hire administrators to run specific divisions.  These groups then breaks into bureaus headed by directors, then sections headed by chiefs and even smaller units headed by supervisors.

While these agencies cannot make laws, they are often given the power to create, modify and examine the specific rules used to implement laws and often their decision have significant effects on the people they regulate.  Additionally, members of these agencies are experts in the areas they oversee and are used as resources by the governor in creating new policy and direction as the Governor formulates the state budget and works to implement his vision for the state.

How to contact Governor Walker

Email: govgeneral@wisconsin.gov

Mail: Office of Governor Scott Walker, 115 East Capitol, Madison, WI 53702

Phone: (608) 266-1212

Email Contact Form: http://walker.wi.gov/Contact-Us

Who is your State Legislator?

If you do not know who your State Senator and State Representative are there is an easy way to find out.  Simply go to http://legis.wisconsin.gov/Pages/waml.aspx , enter your address and it will tell you who represents you.  Once this information is displayed you can connect to their individual web pages with a click of the mouse.  On those pages you will find information on how to contact them, what committees they serve on and even some useful biographical information.

Other Useful State Government Resources
(coming soon)


Federal Government

Legislative Branch

The Legislative Branch of the Federal Government is made up of two branches, The House of Representatives and The Senate.

The Senate is composed of 100 Members, 2 from each State, who are elected to serve for a term of 6 years. There are three classes of Senators, and a new class is elected every 2 years, therefore 1/3 of the Senate is up for election every two years.

The House of Representatives comprises 435 Representatives. The number representing each State is determined by population, but every State is entitled to at least one Representative. Members are elected by the people for 2-year terms, all terms running for the same period. Both the Senators and the Representatives must be residents of the State from which they are chosen. In addition, a Senator must be at least 30 years of age and must have been a citizen of the United States for at least 9 years; a Representative must be at least 25 years of age and must have been a citizen for at least 7 years.

Wisconsin, like all states, has 2 Senators and based on the last census currently has 8 Representatives.

Links to Contact Wisconsin’s delegation:

Senators:

 Members of the House of Representatives

To find your US Representative: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

The Executive Branch

The executive branch of the Government is responsible for enforcing the laws of the land. The Vice President, department heads (Cabinet members), and heads of independent agencies assist in this capacity. Unlike the powers of the President, their responsibilities are not defined in the Constitution but each has special powers and functions.

  • President: Leader of the country and Commander in Chief of the military.
  • Vice President: President of the Senate and becomes President if the President is unable to serve.
  • Departments: Department heads advise the President on policy issues and help execute those policies.
  • Independent Agencies: Help execute policy or provide special services.

How to Contact the President and Vice President

Link to forms to contact President Obama and Vice President Biden: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments

Other Useful Federal Government Links:

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