The 2008 legislative session begins on January 15th and in theory runs until the early summer. But in practice the window of legislative activity is much smaller.
For openers, the scheduling resolution adopted in January of 2007 sets aside only certain days as "floor periods" or those times when the Senate and Assembly convene to vote on bills referred to the respective bodies by committees.
Limited floor period
This resolution identified only 24 days of general floor period activity to be scheduled between January 15th and March 13th. Thus unless a bill is enacted by March 13th, it will not become law.
However, just the fact that 24 days are scheduled does not mean the two houses will actually convene. Indeed, the Assembly has already decided it will not meet on several of the days originally scheduled for January.
In fact, there may be as few as 15 days of actual session activity in 2008. That is not a great deal of time for bills to pass both houses, especially if they have yet to receive a public hearing.
Moreover, control of the legislature remains divided between a Democratic State Senate and a Republican Assembly. This means that no bill will pass that is not acceptable in some fashion to both parties. The list of such bills is likely to be a short one.
Parties seeking to make a record
However, while few bills are expected to become law, many bills will be debated as the two parties seek to "make a record" for the voters to consider as the campaign season begins later this summer.
Some Assembly Republicans will offer proposals that address their priorities to foster a stronger business climate and market based health care reform. Some Senate Democrats want to showcase the "Healthy Wisconsin" initiative.
In addition, both parties can be expected to champion legislation that responds to priorities of important interest groups who are active in the election campaigns. The debates over such issues have proven useful over the years as a means of reminding groups who their friends are come November.
Other bills will be introduced and debated at legislative hearings to attract public attention with the idea of improving their chances for passage in the 2009 session. Some of these "trial runs" may involve new programs or policy changes that their backers hope to see included in the 2009 state budget.
Keep close watch
As with any legislative plan, one must allow for contingencies. Sobering economic news or other developments might yet warrant the need to reexamine the spending levels agreed to in the state budget. If that does happen, the need to adjust the budget will absorb much of the legislative time available in the next three months.
Another staple of these election year sessions is that much of the activity will be concentrated in the final two weeks of the session. If the past is any guide, and it usually is, as many as half of all the bills passed by the 2007-08 legislature will be approved in March of this year.
What all this means is that the next two months will be a good time to pay close attention to the State Capitol.
John Huebscher is executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference in Madison.
Ah, the humanity!
Historians may remember 2007 for different reasons. But for me it was the year when both the U.S. Supreme Court and Hollywood discovered the humanity of unborn children and the existence of abortion alternatives.
One need only revisit the court's past abortion opinions and the movie industry's usual approach to abortion to appreciate the radical course correction this past year.
Beginning with Roe vs. Wade, the court has deftly danced around the reality of what abortion does to unborn children. Words like kill, destroy, and even "take the life" are all but absent from majority opinions. In Roe, abortion meant only "a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy."
For the next 35 years, the court bloodlessly described choice, procedures, and "potential life." Even when dealing with the appalling reality of partial-birth abortion in 2000, the court's majority resorted to sanitized expressions, like calling the baby's skull "fetal calvarium" and referring to tearing off the child's limbs as "disarticulation."
But throughout the Gonzales vs. Carhart decision of April 2007, which upheld the federal partial-birth abortion ban, the court calls abortion "killing" and identifies the fetus as an infant and an unborn child.
No longer is abortion treated as a minor, morally unproblematic surgery like removing a mole. It is a decision "fraught with emotional consequence," "a difficult and painful moral decision."
And the state has "an interest in ensuring so grave a choice is well informed," even if such knowledge may encourage some women "to carry the infant to full term." There's an alternative to abortion? Who knew?
For the typical treatment of abortion in movies recall Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Dirty Dancing, and that paean to noble, selfless, misunderstood abortion providers, Cider House Rules, and its British counterpart, Vera Drake. The message here is that young women need abortions and providers help them, often at great personal risk.
Fast forward to 2007 where we find four movies dealing with unplanned, problematic pregnancies among three single females and one woman married to a brute. The outcome? Four births and two adoption plans.
Only one (Bella) could be considered a pro-life, pro-family film. Its motif is that every human has God-given dignity and deserves to be respected and loved, whether an unborn child, an immigrant family, or the usually unseen kitchen and waiting staff at restaurants.
The message of Juno is complicated by factors I can't disclose without spoiling the plot. Yet the undeniable humanity of Juno's unborn child is captured through the baby's kicking and through Juno's reflection on a clinic protester's comment: "Your baby has fingernails."
Waitress (showing an adulterous affair) and Knocked Up (assuming promiscuity is the norm) are not ideal vehicles to illustrate the human dignity of children before birth. But they do send a vital message to the movie-going public:
If you're facing an unexpected pregnancy, don't let panic drive you to an abortion clinic. Don't accept abortion as the only answer to your problem. Being pregnant for nine months won't destroy your life; but abortion will destroy the life of another human being. Look around. Your family or friends or caring strangers will help you through it.
This, too, is a message given by many bishops in the United States including, most recently, Baltimore's new archbishop, Edwin F. O'Brien. At his October installation Mass he pledged:
"No one has to have an abortion. To all of those in crisis pregnancies, I pledge our support and our financial help. Come to the Catholic Church. Let us walk with you through your time of trouble. Let us help you affirm life. Let us help you find a new life with your child, or let us help you place that child in a loving home. But please, I beg you: let us help you affirm life. Abortion need not be an 'answer' in this archdiocese."
This is a message we all can live by.
Susan Wills is associate director for education in the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. To learn more about the bishops' pro-life activities, go to www.usccb.org/prolife
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