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Conservatively Speaking

State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.

When disaster strikes the state Capitol

Legislation


Suppose a bomb goes off at the state Capitol during the annual State of the State Address, destroying the historic building and killing most inside. How would the state pick up the pieces and restore a working government? Legislation being considered in Madison would create a system whereby sitting legislators would handpick their successors in the event of fatalities caused by terrorism or natural disaster.

A special Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management and Continuity in Government has presented legislation that establishes policies for replacement of elected officials who may have been killed or are otherwise unable to continue to serve. The Assembly and Senate Chief Clerks presented the following scenario during testimony to the Senate Committee on Small Business and Emergency Preparedness on which I serve:


Terrorist Event

 

Hypothetical.   All members of the Assembly and Senate are present in the Assembly chambers for the state of the state address, along with the Lieutenant Governor, State Treasurer, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and a majority of the Supreme Court.  Both Chief Clerks and Sergeants are also present.  Minutes after the President of the Senate convenes the joint session of the Legislature and introduces the Governor, a bomb hidden in an official state vehicle parked in the loading zone at the Southwest entrance to the Capitol explodes.  The South and West wings of the Capitol are destroyed, as are most of the North and East wings, and several state office buildings surrounding the Capitol square are damaged. Radiation from the bomb spreads quickly throughout downtown Madison, affecting many individuals, businesses, and state office facilities located on Madison’s isthmus. Most of the occupants of the Capitol are dead or critically injured.

 

Lines of succession and procedures for choosing new leaders already exist.  However, proponents of Senate Bill 227 (SB 227) contend a quicker system of replacement is necessary.

 

SB 227 requires that a legislator, as soon as  feasible after the Legislature reconvenes every two years, must file with the chief clerk for the legislator’s house a list of not less than three  nor more than seven emergency interim successors. The list would be secret because it would not be subject to inspection or copying under the open records law.

If an enemy attack results in more than nine vacancies in the state Senate or more than 25 vacancies in the state Assembly, interim successors chosen by legislators on their secret lists would be appointed by the presiding officer or his or her designee in the appropriate house of the Legislature to fill the vacancies.  The emergency successor would exercise the powers and duties of the office until an election is held or the emergency is over. All votes taken by interim successors would be valid.

There is more. SB 227 makes an arrangement for emergencies other than enemy attacks. The bill calls for a constitutional amendment that, in such emergencies, would allow the presiding officer to appoint interim successors to fill vacancies.


I am uncomfortable with these stipulations. The threat of terrorism is real, making emergency preparedness a top priority. Removing electoral power from voters is also dangerous. This system would have unelected, unaccountable individuals chosen secretly having expansive taxing and spending powers, among others. Our state already has too many unelected individuals with great authority, leaving taxpayers without recourse.

We must also be realistic. The scenario depicted by the chief clerks is one to worry about; however, it is also arguably highly unlikely.


Having legislators designate cronies in secret who then could, despite being unelected, have great power to tax, spend and set policy, or having partisan presiding officers fill vacancies is a problematic system.

During emergencies, cooler heads need to prevail. The same holds true during non-emergencies.

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