The Republican leader of the state Assembly said he won't let a Democratic lawmaker who's paralyzed from the chest down call into meetings and slammed him for "political grandstanding" on the issue.
But Speaker Robin Vos wrote in a letter to Rep. Jimmy Anderson Thursday he would seek to make a videographer available for public committee hearings and consider letting members vote via paper ballot rather than in-person.
Anderson, of Fitchburg, has sought to be able to phone into committee gatherings, though chamber rules prohibit the practice, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported this week. Vos, R-Rochester, told the publication he didn't want to change Assembly policy in that arena.
In his letter, Vos wrote he has "always been opposed to a call-in option" for committee hearings because they tend to result in "disruptive, ineffective meetings," and it is disrespectful for other attendees who come to give in-person testimony.
Vos' letter also called out Anderson for "political grandstanding" on the issue by going to the media rather than taking his request for phone accommodations to his office, committee leadership and others.
But Anderson said he went to Rep. Dianne Hesselbein, who serves as assistant minority leader, when the session first began and she took the requests to Vos’ office, where they were rejected.
“He’s been aware of these accommodation requests since January and he’s ignored them for months,” Anderson said of Vos, adding later: “he’s been aware of this for a very long time; he’s ignored it because he’s had the power to ignore it for a very long time.”
A Vos spokeswoman reiterated in an email that Vos and legislative human resources haven't been contacted by Anderson directly about his request.
Vos in the letter pledged to have a videographer present at future standing committee meetings if Anderson provides notice he'll be absent; and Vos wrote he'd propose to the Assembly GOP caucus that paper ballot voting be allowed during executive sessions.
Asked for details about the videographer, a Vos spokeswoman said the office is "working out the details."
The letter also highlighted the other accommodations the Legislature has provided to Anderson since he joined the chamber in January 2017, including the purchase of a digital wireless microphone for floor periods, the installation of special voting equipment and allowing Anderson's personal care worker to access the Capitol.
As for the videographer accommodation, Anderson said that option “completely misses the point.” Having a videographer, he said, wouldn’t allow him to participate in the meeting or ask questions, but view the activity as a “bystander.”
While Anderson said using paper ballots could be beneficial and is something he “would absolutely be open to,” he added Vos in that case was “offering a solution to a problem I didn’t necessarily bring up.”
Anderson said he’s considering taking legal action, but is planning to first meet with Vos in person “and get him to see the light on these issues.”
If that doesn’t work, he said, a lawsuit would be “my only recourse.”