State News

Democrats concerned with GOP’s proposed disability accommodations

In hopes of accommodating a request made by Rep. Jimmy Anderson, D-Fitchberg, Republican leaders proposed a package of rule changes to committee meetings in a press conference Tuesday, which Democrats disapproved of. 

Image By: Courtesy of Wisconsin State Legislature

GOP leaders proposed rule changes to allow members of the Assembly to call into committee meetings based on disability accommodations during a press conference Tuesday at the Capitol. 

This change comes after a complaint from Rep. Jimmy Anderson, D-Fitchberg, who requested to digitally attend meetings he could not physically appear at this past January. 

The lawmaker, who was paralyzed from the waist down following a drunk driving accident in 2010 and relies on a health assistant in his Fitchburg home, also requested the Assembly not continue sessions late at night or overnight.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, initially refused Anderson’s request. In response, Anderson sought legal action with Disability Rights Wisconsin. His attorney sent a letter to Vos on Sept. 18 stating that Vos’s denial violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

The motions put forward would allow members to participate in Assembly committee meetings and executive session votes over the phone, granted the person receiving accommodations provides at least two hour’s notice to the committee chair. This stipulation ensures that the Chief Clerk’s Office has enough time to set up necessary equipment. However, Anderson is concerned, finding the requirements unrealistic. 

Furthermore, Democrats had issues with other changes Republicans included in the proposal package: allowing the Assembly’s Rules Committee to set time limits on debate and permitting multiple veto override votes.

Rep. Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton, said now is the time for Legislature to seek people with different backgrounds and abilities to represent all voices across the state.

“I am saddened that the Republicans would use someone’s request for accommodation to push through an extreme partisan wish list,” Hesselbien said. “What happened this afternoon was undemocratic at a time when we had an opportunity to be a shining example for people with different abilities across the country.”

Anderson was also frustrated with Tuesday’s press conference, claiming he was not included in the development process of the GOP’s proposal.

“It’s because Speaker Vos doesn’t understand my particular needs as a disabled person that he’s trying to come up with rules on the fly,” Anderson said. “Without taking me into consideration means these rules aren’t going to be exactly what I need.”

Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, stated that Assembly Republicans wanted to meet Anderson’s requests while keeping “the culture of the Assembly as consistent as possible.” Steineke firmly believes the Assembly should not follow the same policy as the Wisconsin Senate, whose members are allowed to join meetings via teleconference for any reason. 

Vos explained that he did not want to approach the situation on an individual basis since the proposal is for any current or future members, not for Anderson specifically. Vos said Anderson had “every opportunity to comment on it.”

A full assembly vote is set for Thursday, which will determine if Wisconsin becomes the first state to implement this policy based on disability accommodation.

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