NEWS BLOG (WSAU) On the one hand, we don’t want public hearings in front of the state legislature to go on all night and into the early morning. On the other hand, when people drive to Madison to speak, we don’t want the hearing gaveled to a close before the get to the microphone. And that’s what happened Wednesday night during the mining bill hearing.
The state assembly has agreed to hard-and-fast start times and end times for hearings and for floor debate. When the clock strikes twelve (or in this case, 9pm) the hearing is brought to a close. Last night there were several people waiting to speak against the mine bill when the witching-hour came and the event ended.
How to keep that from happening?
First, set some ground rules. Here’s a good starting point: the quantity of comments doesn’t sway the argument, the quality of a speaker’s points does. Hearings aren’t popularity contests; if speaker after speaker gets up says the same thing it doesn’t make what’s being said more important. Meanwhile, if only one person says something unique and true, that could win the day. (Imagine, hypothetically, one expert from afar shows up at the hearing and says ‘we have exactly the same type of iron ore in Shi Lanka, and we’ve perfected an environmentally friendly way to mine it.’) That winning position isn’t outweighed by a dozen speakers who want to talk about environmental protection.
Secondly, the committee chairman needs to be aggressive. People need to be told that the committee doesn’t need to hear the same points over and over again. When one speaker wants to say essentially the same thing that was said 5-minutes earlier, the chair should move them along. A polite “We’ve heard that point earlier. Do you have anything new to contribute?” will do the trick. Those who can’t limit their words should be invited to submit written comments instead.
The public has been heard on the mining bill. It’s time to vote. Those who don’t like the outcome are already planning Act II in court.