Par­a­lyzed law­maker ac­cuses GOP of meet­ings vi­o­la­tion

An­der­son wasn’t present dur­ing lame-duck vote

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Milwaukee Wisconsin - Molly Beck Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sen­tinel USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - WIS­CON­SIN

MADI­SON - An As­sem­bly Demo­cratic law­maker who is par­a­lyzed from the chest down is al­leg­ing Repub­li­can lead­ers of his house did not ac­com­mo­date his dis­abil­ity by hold­ing a vote dur­ing an overnight leg­isla­tive ses­sion in De­cem­ber when he wasn’t there.

Rep. Jimmy An­der­son of Fitch­burg told re­porters Thurs­day he be­lieves the As­sem­bly vi­o­lated the state’s open meet­ings law by not sched­ul­ing the vote at a time when he could be present.

“I’m done hold­ing my tongue and pre­tend­ing like ev­ery­thing’s OK when I’m be­ing de­nied what’s right­fully mine,” he said.

“Be­cause I’ve learned if I don’t de­mand equal­ity of jus­tice and fair­ness and dig­nity and re­spect, that the peo­ple that run this build­ing will not just deny it to me but they will deny it to ev­ery per­son with a dis­abil­ity who might one day dream to run for of­fice and to rep­re­sent their com­mu­ni­ties.”

An­der­son an­nounced he would file a com­plaint with Dane County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Is­mael Ozanne seek­ing to in­val­i­date the new laws on the same day a group of lib­eral-lean­ing groups and ad­vo­cates for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties filed a sep­a­rate law­suit seek­ing to void them.

As­sem­bly Ma­jor­ity Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said Thurs­day

lead­ers of the As­sem­bly have made sev­eral ac­com­mo­da­tions for An­der­son and would have made more then if he had been no­ti­fied of his spe­cific needs that night.

“We want to make sure we are do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to en­sure he can serve his con­stituents,” Steineke said. “The idea we would do any­thing pur­pose­fully to ex­clude him from a vote is just kind of ridicu­lous ... we’ve never had any con­ver­sa­tions that I can re­call where we talked about his lim­i­ta­tions as far as only be­ing able to be in his wheel­chair for (a cer­tain amount of time).”

Marathon Capi­tol ses­sion

Law­mak­ers in De­cem­ber were in the Capi­tol for nearly 24 hours to pass leg­is­la­tion aimed at shift­ing key pow­ers from the in­com­ing Demo­cratic gover­nor and at­tor­ney gen­eral to the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Leg­is­la­ture, which An­der­son op­poses and has pub­licly crit­i­cized.

The As­sem­bly was sup­posed to con­vene at 1 p.m. Dec. 4, but law­mak­ers did not meet on the floor un­til 10:30 p.m., and then re­cessed be­tween 12:30 and 4:30 a.m. The As­sem­bly re­con­vened at that time un­til 8:30 a.m.

Repub­li­can leg­isla­tive lead­ers con­vened the ses­sion without se­cur­ing enough votes to pass the leg­is­la­tion through both houses, and without fi­nal­iz­ing what the bills would do — re­sult­ing in the ex­tended stay in the Capi­tol.

An­der­son said he can­not phys­i­cally be in his wheel­chair for 24 hours, and that he has to co­or­di­nate with home care work­ers. He said be­cause As­sem­bly leg­isla­tive lead­ers could not pro­vide him with a time dur­ing the overnight that a vote would take place on the pack­age of bills, he went home.

He said law­mak­ers were no­ti­fied about 4:10 a.m. to be on the As­sem­bly floor in 20 min­utes. An­der­son said if he had been awake, he wouldn’t have been able to get to the Capi­tol in time to par­tic­i­pate be­cause of his home care work­ers’ sched­ules.

“I just want to be seen and treated like ev­ery other state rep­re­sen­ta­tive,” An­der­son said. “It’s dif­fi­cult al­ways try­ing to de­fine your­self by your strengths but so much of what you feel in­side is be­ing de­fined by your lim­i­ta­tions. And what hap­pens is when you let that shame con­trol you, it si­lences you. You don’t want to ask for the help, you don’t want to ask for spe­cial ac­com­mo­da­tions be­cause it makes you worry about look­ing weak, and that re­ally hurts when you al­ready feel so weak. Well, I’m done with shame.”

Steineke said he would work with An­der­son in the fu­ture to en­sure he has a ho­tel room near the Capi­tol, if need be, or pro­vide other ac­com­mo­da­tions to pre­serve his abil­ity to be present for votes.

“I would have as­sumed that if this was such a ma­jor is­sue that night, that he would have talked to us that night and he just didn’t,” Steineke said, not­ing that An­der­son texted him dur­ing the overnight ses­sion to see what time the vote would be in or­der to let his per­sonal as­sis­tant know when she could go home.

“Never about when he could leave and how long he could stay,” Steineke said. “So that’s what’s dis­ap­point­ing more than any­thing else is that I feel like we’ve done ev­ery­thing we can that he’s asked or needed help (with) to ac­com­mo­date him, and to bring this up now is say­ing that we weren’t will­ing or we did some­thing in­ten­tion­ally to ex­clude him — it just doesn’t make any sense.”

An­der­son said he did pre­vi­ously tell Repub­li­can lead­er­ship of the needs as­so­ci­ated with his dis­abil­ity, and re­peat­edly about his needs for time con­straints.

“For the most part it has all worked, but I don’t know in what world they would think hold­ing a ses­sion 14 hours de­layed and then giv­ing peo­ple 10 min­utes’ no­tice to be here is rea­son­able,” he said. “And to think as the in­di­vid­ual who is dis­abled, I have to sit there and try to ex­plain ev­ery sin­gle lit­tle piece of my life so that they can prop­erly ac­com­mo­date me, I think is a lit­tle ridicu­lous.”

Rules for Leg­is­la­ture un­clear

It’s un­clear whether dis­abil­ity ac­com­mo­da­tion rules gov­ern­ing work­places ap­ply to the state Leg­is­la­ture. Law­mak­ers are es­sen­tially their own bosses, with the abil­ity to hire and fire

“I just want to be seen and treated like ev­ery other state rep­re­sen­ta­tive.” Rep. Jimmy An­der­son, D-Fitch­burg

em­ploy­ees.

As­sem­bly Chief Clerk Patrick Fuller and the Leg­is­la­ture’s Hu­man Re­sources Di­rec­tor Amanda Jor­gen­son did not an­swer ques­tions about what kind of ac­com­mo­da­tions must be made for law­mak­ers with dis­abil­i­ties.

Kit Ker­schen­steiner, di­rec­tor of le­gal and ad­vo­cacy ser­vices for Dis­abil­ity Rights Wis­con­sin, said the ADA pro­tects peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties from dis­crim­i­na­tion in ser­vices, pro­grams and ac­tiv­i­ties pro­vided by state and lo­cal gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties.

“The spe­cific facts about the sit­u­a­tion (which I do not have) would be rel­e­vant to whether his com­plaint would ul­ti­mately be suc­cess­ful,” she said. Dis­abil­ity Rights Wis­con­sin also on Thurs­day filed a law­suit to void the new laws.

Tom Ka­menick, deputy coun­sel for the con­ser­va­tive Wis­con­sin In­sti­tute for Law & Lib­erty, said An­der­son’s ac­cu­sa­tions “sound base­less and without merit.”

“The Wis­con­sin Supreme Court has al­ready held that courts can­not hear open meet­ings law com­plaints against the Leg­is­la­ture,” he said. “To avoid vi­o­lat­ing sepa­ra­tion of pow­ers prin­ci­ples, courts will not re­view whether the Leg­is­la­ture fol­lowed its own rules or pro­ce­dural statutes (aside from con­sti­tu­tional re­quire­ments). Dis­trict At­tor­ney Ozanne should re­mem­ber that, as it was his case try­ing to stop Act 10 that led to that re­sult.”

Ka­menick said he’s not aware of any cases or in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the open meet­ings law that say “a ses­sion can be ‘too long’ such that it ex­cludes some­body.”

An­der­son said that’s why he be­lieves his case has a shot.

“This par­tic­u­lar statute has never been prop­erly ad­ju­di­cated through the courts and of course not, the idea of some­body be­ing ex­cluded from the process has never crossed any­one’s mind be­cause ev­ery­one has been able to prop­erly ac­cess the Leg­is­la­ture,” he said. “I’m prob­a­bly the first dis­abled rep­re­sen­ta­tive that has had dif­fi­cul­ties and needed ac­com­mo­da­tions.”

MOLLY BECK / MIL­WAU­KEE JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

Rep. Jimmy An­der­son, D-Fitch­burg, said law­mak­ers vi­o­lated the open meet­ings law by not ac­com­mo­dat­ing his dis­abil­i­ties dur­ing an overnight leg­isla­tive ses­sion in De­cem­ber.

Steineke

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