Legislative Schedules and Covering the Legislature

The state legislature’s sessions run two years, starting in January of an odd-numbered year, and running though the day in January two years later when the next legislature is sworn in.  The actual schedule is divided between committee work periods and legislative floor periods.

It’s easy as a reporter in Wisconsin to find out when the state legislature is meeting.  You can find out when it’s in session, and whether both the Senate and the Assembly are meeting online. This site has all the dates for both houses, and the “master calendar” which tells you when the Legislature will be in floor session.

Much of the work of both the Senate and Assembly is done “in committee”, and in Wisconsin it’s very easy to find out who’s on which committee, when the committee is scheduled to meet, what they’re going to be talking about, and even to see a copy of the official notice of the meeting.  All this information is available on the web.  This is a highly detailed website with the complete calendar for all the committees, and you can see a monthly calendar, a weekly calendar, and see all the scheduled meetings for the entire upcoming session.

Every committee, whether it’s Natural Resources, Economic Development, or the powerful Joint Finance Committee, has its meetings and notices posted on this website.  You can easily find out if any legislators from your area are on any given committee, when they’re meeting, and what they’re going to talk about.

The State Capitol is very accessible to reporters who wish to cover the legislature in person.  There is a Capitol Press Room on the second floor of the Capitol, between the Assembly Chambers in the west wing and the Senate Chambers in the in the south wing.  Reporters can cover the activities of committees as they meet in hearing rooms, or they can cover the floor action from the galleries open to the public, or from limited seating on press row on the floor of the Assembly and Senate.  But because seating is limited on press row, you must check with the Dean of Capitol Press Corps in the Capitol Press Room to determine seating availability.

All news directors, assignment managers, and reporters should be aware of a powerful new tool for covering the legislature that became available in 2007: WisconsinEYE.  WisconsinEYE is a state version of CSPAN which features coverage of legislative committees and floor sessions in both the assembly and senate.  This new service makes it easy for reporters to “cover” the legislature from their newsroom, and is especially valuable for developing stories with local hooks when a specific issue affects your coverage area, or when a local legislator has a bill up in committee or on the assembly or senate floor.  WisconsinEYE’s website has a schedule of its televised events and it streams some of its content on the internet, while other content is run live on at least two of the state’s major cable system providers, Charter and Time-Warner.  You can use portions of WisconsinEYE’s video and/or audio coverage, with attribution, in your news stories.