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State Journal: Heated debate; Roll call

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Mukwanago, Wis., high school students got an unusual civics lesson this month, when state lawmakers holding a hearing in their school's auditorium erupted in a shouting match that ended with the police being summoned.

The House education committee was discussing the state education department's role in approving school mascots, logos, and nicknames.

Tensions flared after Rep. Charles Coleman, the panel's chairman, announced that he would hold another hearing the next morning on a bill that would give school officials access to the criminal records of students caught with weapons in school.

Rep. Marlin Schneider objected, complaining that state law requires 24 hours' notice and that many panel members could not rearrange their schedules.

Mr. Schneider refused to relinquish the microphone. Mr. Coleman responded by banging his gavel and repeatedly shouting, "You're out of order," witnesses said. After several minutes of this, Mukwanago High SMukwonago High School's principal, Dale Henry, decided to call the police in.

"I told the custodian to have an officer come over and stand in the auditorium," Mr. Henry said. "It was a very awkward situation to be in."

Virginia Purdy, the president of the Ohio state board of education, did not think that the board's decision to abolish roll-call votes would attract much attention. But three state lawmakers have taken issue with the new policy, and one has introduced legislation that would force the board members to stand up and be counted.

"Our concern about the new policy can be summarized in one word: accountability," said an Oct. 17 letter signed by Republican Sen. W. Scott Oelslager and Democrats Robert Boggs and Patrick Sweeney, the minority leaders of the Senate and House, respectively.

"By junking roll-call votes, you have invited a cloak of secrecy to be pulled over the public's eye," the lawmakers said.

In response, Ms. Purdy asked them to read the minutes of the last board meeting, held on Oct. 10. All voice-vote motions passed unanimously, she said, and if a member voted no on an issue, his name would be recorded. Ms. Purdy said that members can still request a roll-call vote on important issues, and noted that the board had routinely used roll-call voting for less than two years.

"We are not trying to hide anything," she said. "We are trying to concentrate our time on the important issues before us."

--Jessica Portner & Leslie Harris

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