Assembly makes rule change to allow disabled lawmaker to phone in; Anderson makes emotional plea

The Wisconsin Assembly has passed a rule change allowing for a Democratic lawmaker who is disabled to phone into meetings, as he requested nearly a year ago.

But the affected lawmaker, Rep. Jimmy Anderson, voted against the changes Thursday. He and Democrats objected to other changes they say would limit the power of the minority party to force debate on their bills. It was approved on a party line 61-35 vote with all Republicans in support and all Democrats against.

.@Rep_Jimmy delivers an emotional speech to the Assembly about what it is like to live as a quadriplegic.

“I love coming to the building,” he says. “I can only do this job if you’ll accommodate me.” #news3now

— Rose Schmidt (@RoseSchmidtTV) October 10, 2019

Anderson, who is paralyzed, made an impassioned plea to Republicans to make changes to a proposal that includes accommodations he requested.

“I am asking to be included in the legislative process to the best of my ability, and to think that I would be disrespectful to this building offends me to my core,” Anderson said.

Anderson recounted being struck by a drunken driver in 2010. The crash killed his parents and brother and left him paralyzed.

“The reason why I’m in this wheelchair is because a drunk driver ran a stop sign at 60 miles an hour when I was on my way to celebrate my birthday with my family. It was me, my mother, my father and my 14-year-old little brother. He slammed into the side of our vehicle running a stop sign drunk and high. The vehicle tumbled end over end, and we slammed into a palm tree.

“I came to hanging upside down in that car, and I was staring into the lifeless eyes of my little brother — his body broken and bent, bleeding, and I begged him to tell me that he was still alive. I begged him over and over to tell me that he was OK. And all I could do was stare because I couldn’t move. And I started begging my mom and my dad to tell me that they were OK. And all I could hear was the ticking of the engine, and that was until I bled out.”

He also gave graphic, personal details about how difficult it is for him to get ready to make it into work.

In an effort to appease Anderson, Republicans removed some provisions Democrats opposed that were not related to the disability accommodations.

“We took the words from (Anderson) to heart, and we want to make one more step in your direction,” Republican Majority Leader Jim Steineke told Democrats. “We’re hopeful that by doing this, that you’ll take a step back for the first time.”

One provision Democrats opposed would allow the Assembly to attempt to override the governor’s veto multiple times. That was made into a separate proposal, which was approved on a 60-36 vote, with all Republicans except Rep. Scott Allen in support and all Democrats against.

Steineke told Democrats that Republicans’ intentions regarding the veto override provision were not “nefarious.”

The plan passed allows the Assembly to try to override the governor’s veto multiple times, instead of once.

“A second vote on a veto override is about things that may change after the first vote. So (if) you take the first vote, people back home might not like the way you voted, might start putting pressure on you to vote the other way,” Steineke said.

Britt Cudaback, spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, said in a statement, “Republicans are apparently still so sour about losing an election that happened almost a year ago that today they adopted Lame Duck 2.0, choosing to exploit a request to make accommodations for a member with disabilities just so they can have more opportunities (to) override and ignore the will of the people.”

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