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Madison Legislative Training for the Richardson Scholars

As part of the Richardson Scholar Program, the participants attended a political training from 9am-noon during the last week of their English studies, August 19-23rd. The training focused on useful information that would

relate to their work in Myanmar, helping them understand the difference between local and federal governance. Mindy Walker conducted the classroom training and facilitated the visits during the week. The following is a day-by-day report on the training.

madison1Day 1

We started the week off with a classroom discussion about federalism and the state’s role versus the federal role.  Federalism is sometimes considered a dirty word in Myanmar but members of the NLD are supportive of greater state responsibilities so we discussed the pros and cons of this model.  We talked about how a bill became a law at the state level and what the roles of the various stakeholders are. After two hours of classroom work, we met with the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.  Executive Director Maggie Brickerman explained the difference between Party activities and government roles. The group discussed campaigns, candidate recruitment and fundraising.

Day 2

Because of the NLD’s interest in amending their Constitution, we talked about the important role the Constitution plays in American government and the handful of times we have amended it in our country’s history. We also discussed elections, voting rights, lobbying and open government. As a way to show how a bill becomes a law, we used recently passed legislation regarding concussions for youth athletes.

madison2The bill had bipartisan support and was signed into law last session.  With each meeting in the legislature and legislative agencies, we were able to talk about each group’s role in the process.

For example, we met with staff from Senator Alberta Darling’s (R) office to understand why she chose to author the bill, which groups supported the bill and why and how she ushers a bill through the process as a lead author.  After meeting with her office, we met with Democratic Leader, Senator Chris Larson, to discuss what the minority’s role is in the legislature. As an opposition party, the NLD is only able to draw attention to bills and not really to effectively introduce or amend legislation.  Senator Larson talked about how his party works with leadership and picks its battles on the important bills.

Wisconsin has had some serious protests and conflict over the past two years, which has not abated.  Recently the Governor has ordered the protestors, also known as the Capitol Singers, to be arrested if they do not seek a permit.  This has created larger crowds and more civil disobedience.  The Burmese politicians especially enjoyed seeing protesters express their peaceful opinions and get arrested by capitol police.

madison3Day 3

The group met with the Legislative Reference Bureau, the legislative agency tasked with drafting bills on request of legislators.  Using the Concussion Bill as a model, we talked about how staff and legislators get ideas from other states, interest groups and constituents and how they relay their ideas for legislation to the LRB for drafting.  They were able to see how many changes and amendments are added to try to seek a balanced bill.

Next they met with two members of the capitol press corps, Steve Walters, a journalist who has covered Wisconsin politics for over 20 years, and Jason Stein from the Milwaukee State Journal. The journalists talked about their role in covering politics in Wisconsin and the importance of their job in educating constituents and keeping government honest.  They also discussed the open governance model in Wisconsin.

The group also met with the Wisconsin Association of Athletic Trainers to discuss why they supported and helped to draft the Concussion Bill.  The WATA talked about the importance of having a professional statewide association to advocate on behalf of the member and the role of their lobbyists in making sure their legislative agenda is successful.

madison4Day 4

The group met with Legislative Council, a legislative agency dedicated to providing legal advice to legislators regarding legislation and state laws.  The Legislative Council explained the importance of their roles in the process and how their guidance is important during committee hearings to understand the impact of bills.

They then met with Representative Terese Berceau (D) from Madison and a cosponsor of the Concussion Bill.  We talked about how she got involved in politics and was elected to the legislature.  She discussed how she gets ideas for legislation and some of her legislative priorities.

madison6Day 5

The final day, the group went to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, formerly known as the Department of Commerce.  The Deputy Secretary met with them and discussed their role in economic development at the state and regional levels.  We also discussed current trade with Myanmar and what Wisconsin’s major exports are and to which regions.

Afterwards, the group met with policy staff in the Governor’s Office.  They got a tour of the office and learned about the 30 staff members and the issues they covered.  We touched on working with the legislature, signing legislation and creating annual budgets.