MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans who control the Wisconsin Assembly will not allow a paralyzed Democratic lawmaker who is in a wheelchair to phone into committee meetings.
Rep. Jimmy Anderson, of Fitchburg, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a story published Monday that enforcing the legislative rule keeps him from performing his job as well as he should. Anderson said the rule discriminates against him because he has difficulty getting to some meetings because of health reasons.
But Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is unwilling to change the rule.
“I think it’s disrespectful for someone to be asking questions over a microphone or a speakerphone when individuals are actually taking the time out of their day to come and testify in person,” Vos told the Journal Sentinel. Anderson said it’s “absolutely ridiculous” to say accommodating someone with a disability would somehow be disrespectful to people.
“I think it’s disrespectful to exclude a duly elected member of the Legislature to be able to fully participate when the need for an accommodation arises,” Anderson said.
The Senate and Assembly set their own rules on how they conduct their meetings. The Senate allows members to phone into committee meetings, but the Assembly does not.
Vos noted lawmakers have accommodated Anderson’s needs in other ways, such as by providing him with a computer that has voice recognition software.
Anderson said he is considering suing if Vos and other Assembly leaders don’t change their stance. But he said he is researching whether he would qualify as an employee under the Americans with Disabilities Act since he is a lawmaker, not an employee.
In 2010, a drunken driver smashed into the vehicle Anderson was in, killing his parents and brother and paralyzing Anderson from the chest down.
Anderson said he prefers to participate in meetings in person but can’t always do so. It’s difficult to find personal-care workers who can assist him if meetings start early or go late and it’s not healthy for him to be in his chair for extended periods, he said.
Anderson in January raised concerns that Assembly 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 asked Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne to review whether legislators violated the open meetings law by not accommodating his needs. Ozanne has not responded to Anderson’s request and has since asked Attorney General Josh Kaul to review the matter.