A Democratic lawmaker who is paralyzed from the chest down is alleging that Republican lawmakers broke the state's open meetings law last month by not letting him know when a vote would occur on a controversial set of bills passed in an extraordinary session.
Rep. Jimmy Anderson, D-Fitchburg, said Wednesday that he will file a complaint with Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne requesting that Ozanne sue Assembly Republican leaders and seek to have the lame-duck laws voided.
State law dictates that "no duly elected or appointed member of a governmental body may be excluded from any meeting of such body."
Anderson and his family were hit in 2010 by a drunk driver in California. The crash left Anderson paralyzed from the chest down and killed his parents and younger brother. He uses a wheelchair, but said he is medically advised against spending too much time in it.
In addition to the limit on how much time he can be away from home in his wheelchair, Anderson said, he has to coordinate his arrival and departure from the Capitol with home health aides who require advance notice of his schedule.
Votes on the extraordinary session bills came after hours of delays that kept lawmakers in the Capitol overnight as Republicans worked behind closed doors to strike agreements on the proposals. The Senate was originally scheduled to convene at 11 a.m. Tuesday, with the Assembly following at 1 p.m. Both chambers met briefly at several points throughout the night, but did not return in earnest until the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
Anderson said he had asked Republican leaders when they expected to start the session, but wasn't given an answer. He said he left for the night around 10 p.m.
A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
After the votes were taken, Anderson had his votes paired on two of the bills — a procedural move that allows two lawmakers with opposing votes have their votes offset each other in the case of an excused absence from the chamber.
But Anderson said he was deprived of the chance to debate the bills or offer amendments because his disability required him to leave. He said he planned to pair his votes and move on, but the more he thought about it, the more frustrated he grew.
"It's about being able to fully participate in the process," Anderson said in an interview.
The state's open meetings law includes an exemption that "no provision of this subchapter which conflicts with a rule of the senate or assembly or joint rule of the legislature shall apply to a meeting conducted in compliance with such rule."
Asked about the exemption, Anderson argued that i would only apply in this case if the Assembly had a rule in place allowing for the exclusion of people with disabilities.
"I’m not questioning whether or not they can schedule a vote that happens at midnight. What I'm asking is, the law is very specific, it says no duly elected member can be excluded from participating in the process. If they action they took excluded me on the basis of my disability, I think that's pretty open and shut," Anderson said. "What I want to have is a conversation about what does it mean to be inclusive, what does it mean to be accessible and what does it mean to be exclusive."