Wisconsin GOP to let lawmaker with disability call in to meetings

Wisconsin GOP to let lawmaker with disability call in to meetings
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Wisconsin GOP to let lawmaker with disability call in to meetings

MADISON, Wis. - A Wisconsin lawmaker who is paralyzed would be allowed to call into committee meetings he can't attend in person under rule changes Republicans unveiled Tuesday.

But the lawmaker the rules are meant to accommodate, Democratic Rep. Jimmy Anderson said he wasn't consulted first.

"Excluding me from the process I think is again offensive and disappointing, and frankly really frustrating," Anderson said.

Anderson uses a wheelchair and says he is reliant on a home health assistant who is not always available at the time needed. He first asked in January to be able to call in to meetings he couldn’t make, and for assurances that the Assembly would not be in session late at night or overnight.

Republicans worked on the rule changes in private and did not consult with Anderson or other Democrats. But Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke called the accommodations "reasonable" and said he was confident they would meet all of Anderson's demands.

Anderson and Republicans publicly sparred over his requests for months. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos initially refused to grant Anderson’s request, saying it was disrespectful to those who attended meetings in person.

The fight became so bitter, Vos accused Anderson of "political grandstanding," and in August said that Anderson went public with his requests to undermine the GOP legislator’s taking over as head of a national organization. Anderson responded by calling the Vos claims "sad," "ridiculous" and "myopic."

Vos told reporters Tuesday afternoon that the rule changes were meant to help not just Anderson but other lawmakers who could need accommodations.

"Rep Anderson chose to communicate through letter as opposed to calling and scheduling a meeting with any of us, so if that's his preferred method of communication, we thought we would use the same method. We put out a proposal. He can read it. He'll have every opportunity to comment on it like any one of the 99," Vos said.

Anderson, 33, was paralyzed from the waist down after a drunken driver in 2010 smashed into a vehicle he was in, killing his parents and brother. He was elected in 2016 and re-elected in 2018. Anderson has said that GOP leaders did not accommodate his needs when they held an overnight lame-duck legislative session in December on legislation to curb the power of incoming Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

Anderson, an attorney, has said he was investigating whether he could file a lawsuit alleging Republicans were violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Some of these changes just don't meet my particular needs, and so if they would have come to me we could have had more reasonable conversations. I think we could have avoided a potential lawsuit, but we're still looking to that possibility," Anderson said Tuesday.

The full Assembly will vote on the proposed rule changes on Thursday.

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