This afternoon the state assembly approved a rule change allowing Republicans unlimited attempts to override vetoes from the governor. That’s a change from the old rules, when the Assembly only had one chance to override a veto.
Democrats voted against the proposal and called it a power grab. They say the change allows Republicans to suddenly call a veto override when few Democrats cannot attend, allowing a two-thirds threshold of the members present to override a veto when it wouldn’t normally.
Under state law, vetoes only require a two-thirds majority vote of the lawmakers present, and meetings can be convened without everyone there. The rule changes will let the majority party convene as many meetings as they want to vote to overturn the governor’s veto.
The rules changes were tied to accommodations for lawmakers who present evidence of a permanent disability — accommodations which have been sought for months from Representative Jimmy Anderson, a Democrat who is paralyzed from the waist down.
He said that, even though some of the rule changes would help him, he could not vote for the full package.
“I want people to understand how small and petty it is that the majority is forcing me to vote against my own disability accommodation,” Anderson said.
“It is entirely in the majority’s power to split my accommodation from the rest of this bill. And had they done that we could have all voted together.”
Back in July, Anderson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the law prohibiting him from phoning into meetings prevents him from performing his job as well as he could.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said that, although lawmakers accommodated Anderson’s disability in other ways, he was unwilling to change this rule.
Vos told the Journal Sentinel that allowing a committee member to phone in was disrespectful to the individuals testifying in person. Anderson threatened to sue, alleging that the Republicans were violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Speaker Vos later recanted, saying at a press conference on Tuesday that he supports the rule change.
“We took the politics out of it, just took a step back and all figured out the best way to make sure that Representative Anderson can represent his district but also do it in a way that doesn’t really compromise the integrity of what we think the legislature should be,” Vos says.
But Democratic representatives accused Speaker Vos and other Republicans of putting politics in the resolution, leading to a very contentious discussion in the assembly.
The package was eventually split into two resolutions: One about disability accommodations, and the other about the rules changes. Majority Leader Jim Steineke said this was an attempt to reach across the aisle.
“We want to make one more step in your direction. We are offering an amendment to remove from the resolution the portions of the resolution that have to do with reconsideration of assembly decisions on vetoes,” Steineke says.
“All that will be left are the accommodations that we’re making to ensure that the requests are addressed. And that is the changes to the committee process allowing anybody phone in who is certified with a disability.”
Despite this amendment, Anderson ended up voting against the resolution that would allow him to call into committee meetings because he said it also did not ban overnight sessions, which he says have caused health complications for him in the past.
Speaker Vos did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication.