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.
Let’s be clear… Anderson is grandstanding. He voted for the Assembly rules to disallow people from phoning into hearings. That being clear, the issue itself poses some interesting questions.
In our modern age, private businesses have been using audio and video collaboration technology for years. The Assembly could certainly do the same thing. The question is, should they? A legislative body is not the same as a private business. Are the people denied access to their elected officials if the elected official is not physically there? Can an elected official properly hear from the citizens who attend a meeting when they aren’t there? Can the elected official see the body language of the audience, clearly hear what the people are saying? Is there a duty for the elected official to be there to be available in the hall before and after the meeting, look a constituent in the eye, etc.?
Other elected bodies in Wisconsin already allow elected officials to attend meetings remotely. In West Bend, one of the school board members regularly attends meetings remotely. Is it right? Maybe. For the people who try to grab a minute with their elected official after the meeting, it doesn’t work.
I lean on the side of Vos on this one. While remote attendance is acceptable in a business setting, the people have a right to have access to their elected officials. And if people are permitted to attend remotely for health reasons, that opens the door to people abusing the process and hiding from heated meetings.