Dem Rep. Jimmy Anderson is arguing the lame-duck laws should be nullified after he says GOP lawmakers violated the state’s open meetings law during last month’s extraordinary session.
Anderson, who’s paralyzed from the chest down, said Republicans failed to give proper notice before scheduling a vote on the bills, causing him to miss the vote and deny his constituents their right to representation.
The Fitchburg Dem spoke with reporters at a Capitol news conference Thursday as groups including the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin filed a lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court against the extraordinary session laws. The liberal group One Wisconsin Now earlier filed a legal challenge against changes to early voting in the lame-duck legislation.
Anderson is planning to file a separate verified complaint, also in Dane County Circuit Court.
“I’ve learned that if I don’t demand equality and justice, and fairness, dignity and respect, then the people who run this building won’t just deny it to me, they’ll deny it to every person with a disability who may one day dream to run for office and represent their communities,” Anderson said.
Anderson said after waiting hours for the session to start on Dec. 4, Assembly leadership still hadn’t provided him a timeline for the vote. Anderson at 10 p.m. then returned home out of medical necessity stemming from his disability, he said.
Ultimately, legislators voted early in the morning Dec. 5, but Anderson said he wasn’t given enough notice to join the session. His votes were paired on two of the bills.
“What I’m asking is, the law is very specific, it says no duly elected member can be excluded from participating in the process,” he said. “If they action they took excluded me on the basis of my disability, I think that’s pretty open and shut.”
A spokeswoman for Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke said the Kaukauna Republican had received a text from Anderson Dec. 4 asking what the timeline was, but Steineke responded it was still up in the air. The spokeswoman said Steineke didn’t receive a response from Anderson and attributed the issue to a breakdown in communication.
She also noted Steineke’s office had worked with Anderson in the past to allow him to have a special mic to be able to speak easily on the floor, as well as additional accommodations to let him cast votes.
See Anderson’s complaint:
A coalition of groups says the lame-duck laws are unconstitutional, because they stemmed from an unlawful legislative session.
The plaintiffs include the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Disability Rights of Wisconsin and Black Leaders Organizing for Communities as well as three state residents. They argued in their lawsuit Thursday the Legislature doesn’t have the authority to convene in the way it did last month.
The suit notes the state Constitution only allows the Legislature to convene under two circumstances: “at such time as shall be provided by law” and when “convened by the governor in a special session.”
That means, the suit continues, the legislation conducted during the lame-duck session — which the complaint says “does not fall within either category” — is “unenforceable” because the Legislature “exceeded its constitutional authority by convening the session.”
But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, slammed the effort as one without “merit in the long run,” predicting the state would have to “waste a bunch of taxpayer dollars on these liberal special interest groups raising money from outside special interests” to defend the laws.
“There is absolutely positively no doubt that what the Legislature did is constitutional, because we have the right to convene ourselves in extraordinary session,” he said.
A memo from Vos’ office, prepared by Leg Council, notes convening an extraordinary session doesn’t violate the state’s constitution, because each house is able to set the rules for its proceedings. It adds the state Supreme Court has ruled those proceedings are “exclusively a legislative matter free from interference from the judicial branch.”
A spokeswoman for Evers slammed the law as “a hasty and cynical attempt by Republicans to override the will of the people.” She added Evers will consult with legal counsel to decide on his next steps.
See the Leg Council memo: