Republican and Democratic leaders emerged from a closed-door meeting Tuesday without reaching agreement on how to cut down on late-night debate in the state Assembly.
Leaders from both parties met in secret to discuss proposals put forward by Republican Speaker Robin Vos. He and Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca said after the meeting they were still negotiating and would talk more Wednesday.
"I would say we're not very close yet," Barca said. "You might say we're worlds apart."
Both Barca and Vos said they are committed to finding a way to have the Assembly conduct more of its business during regular business hours and not late into the night or in the early morning hours.
"The goal is to try and come together," Barca said.
Republicans hold a 59-39 majority in the Assembly and can pass whatever rules they want. Vos said that vote would still occur Thursday.
Vos said another change they are pursuing is to require people on the floor of the Assembly to wear a suit coat, a change Barca said some Democrats would object to. That is currently the requirement in the Senate, but it is not consistently enforced.
Tuesday's meeting included eight members of the 12-member Assembly Rules Committee, which constitutes a quorum. After reporters asked to be let into the meeting in the speaker's office, Barca and Vos came into a hallway and denied they were violating the open meetings law.
Vos said the meeting was legal because the rule changes they were discussing would go to the full Assembly for a vote and not to the Rules Committee.
Vos' spokeswoman Kit Beyer said after talking with the attorney general's office they were confident there was no violation of the open meetings law. She would not say what the attorney general's office said.
The Wisconsin Assembly's late-night sessions have produced some dramatic moments. Passage of Republican Gov. Scott Walker's plan effectively ending collective bargaining for public workers in 2011 came at 1 a.m. after a 61-hour filibuster. Republicans hustled off the floor to a barrage of insults from the gallery and yells of "Shame!" from Democrats.
Other times, lawmakers have burst into song, imitated one another or just become unusually candid.
Take Rep. Gary Sherman's tirade around 4 a.m. in 2008.
"This is unprofessional. This is stupid. We have no business to be here," Sherman yelled. "There's people in this room with cancer. There's people in this room with heart disease. A third of the room has high blood pressure. There's elderly people. There's pregnant people. What the hell are we doing?"
Lawmakers aren't alone in their dislike of the late nights.
"It's a huge impediment to citizen oversight of the Legislature," said Mike McCabe, director of the nonpartisan government watchdog group the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. "It leads to fewer eyes watching the Legislature, and that's never healthy."
Some other states have taken steps to rein in the late-night sessions, such as the 11 p.m. in curfew in Pennsylvania or the midnight one in Oklahoma.
In Minnesota, lawmakers require a vote to work past midnight, although they still routinely do it.
The New York Senate has an unofficial but strict rule against marathon sessions. But there's no such rule in the New York Assembly, where the final-session days have all gone into the early morning in recent years.