State Capitol

Barry Dale Gilfry (CC BY-SA 2,0)

Republican leaders in the state Legislature released proposed changes to Assembly rules Tuesday, Oct. 8, that would meet the request of a disabled Democratic state lawmaker but also give themselves more power, including unlimited attempts to override a governor's veto.

Assembly leaders announced Tuesday afternoon lawmakers will vote later this week on the proposed rule changes.

One of the proposals is aimed at addressing the concerns of Rep. Jimmy Anderson, D-Fitchburg, who went public in July with concerns about a state Assembly rule that bars lawmakers from calling into legislative committee meetings they cannot attend in person. The state Senate already allows for such attendance.

Anderson, who is paralyzed from the waist down, said he is sometimes unable to attend legislative committee meetings in person due to their length, timing, and the health care needs surrounding his disability.

Under the Republican plan, the prohibition on calling into meetings would be lifted.

However, GOP leaders paired that change with a number of rules that would give themselves more power. One change would allow unlimited attempts by the Republican-controlled Legislature at overriding vetoes made by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. Current law only allows one veto override attempt.

Other changes would allow Republicans to set debate times for bills without Democrats' consent, bar Democrats from taking breaks from Assembly floor sessions to discuss bills under certain circumstances, and allow themselves to convene a floor session to vote on bills even if a number of lawmakers are absent.

Anderson said pairing those changes with his requested disability accommodations is inappropriate.

"If my Republican colleagues were serious about wanting to be considerate about my disabliity accommodations, they probably should have had a set of rules that are separate from these other rules," Anderson said. "I don't know why these are all being mixed together."

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, was initially opposed to meeting Anderson’s request. He accused the lawmaker of going to the press before contacting his office and politicizing the issue.

Vos also argued the change would compromise the integrity of committee meetings and send the wrong signal to members of the public who travel to attend meetings and provide testimony.

Speaking at a Capitol press conference on Tuesday, Vos said Republican decided to meet Anderson's request anyway.

"We took the politics out of it, just took a step back and all figured out the best way that Rep. Anderson can represent his district," Vos said.

Anderson told reporters Tuesday he had contacted lawyers and was pursuing a lawsuit contending the current Assembly rule is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. His lawyers in that potential case contacted Vos on September 18, according to a letter released by the Speaker's office.

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said he and other leaders didn't meet with Anderson to review the proposed changes. However, Steineke said he believes the changes should be sufficient.

"I think if (Democrats) take a fair look at it, it’ll be clear we addressed his concerns in a way that doesn’t affect the integrity of the body," Steineke said.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2019, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

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