Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, believes there was an agenda behind the push by Democrats for accommodations for a new lawmaker under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The agenda, as Vos described it: To embarrass Vos as he stepped into a national-level post.
Here is the background:
State Rep. Jimmy Anderson, elected in 2018, was paralyzed from the chest down in 2010 after a drunken driver collided with the vehicle he was traveling in, killing his family and permanently injuring him. The Democrat from Fitchburg uses a wheelchair to get around.
On Aug. 14, 2019, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel posted a story that said all 36 Democratic members of the Assembly asked Vos and Republican leaders to allow Anderson to call in to meetings he can’t attend in person, and make other adjustments to Assembly rules.
The accommodations, they said, fell under federal ADA requirements. The letter was dated Aug. 8, 2019. No Republicans signed it.
Additionally, Anderson and other Democrats have asked Vos to refrain from calling overnight floor sessions that aren’t an emergency and that an ADA coordinator be assigned to determine which accommodation requests should be granted.
The day after the story appeared, Vos told conservative radio host Jay Weber on 1130 WISN the timing of the request was fishy, since it aligned with his new position as president of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"The fact that they launched this during the same week I got to become the president of the nation’s largest bipartisan organization called the National Conference of State Legislatures, first person from Wisconsin, does not seem like an accident to me," Vos told Weber on Aug. 15, 2019. "Everything they do is political and based on trying to make the other side look bad."
Vos told Weber he felt that lawmakers phoning in to meetings was disrespectful, because they are paid to be present. Additionally, Vos said, you wouldn’t be able to be sure they were really paying attention if they phoned in.
Vos has said Anderson could listen to recordings of hearings and meetings he may miss, but that he would not be able to phone into them so he could participate and vote.
So, Vos has claimed the accommodations request from Anderson and the Democrats was timed to embarrass him.
We decided to take a closer look at the timeline of what happened.
Anderson’s office provided a Jan. 23, 2019, email that Anderson sent to the chief of staff for Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, as the starting point.
That email, sent by Anderson at 12:55 p.m., asked that any meeting of the Assembly have 24-hour notice; that none extend beyond 24 hours; that all be held within reasonable hours; and that individuals with disabilities be allowed to attend by phone or teleconference.
Here is a summary of what happened next:
Feb. 7, 2019: Through a formal negotiation, or Memorandum of Understanding over rules for the session, Democrats bring the requests to Republican state leaders in further detail.
April 16, 2019: GOP leaders reject Anderson’s request to call into sessions and meetings and that the Assembly recess no later than 10 p.m., reconvening the following day if debate went longer. Republicans say they would try to limit meetings to 12 hours and said if they were expected to go longer, would provide appropriate notice to members. This is based on a document outlining the negotiations provided by Anderson’s office.
May 15, 2019: Democrats say the 12-hour parameters, and not allowing Anderson to call into meetings, do not address accessibility concerns.
May 31, 2019: Anderson contacts reporter Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
May 31, 2019: Marley asks Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer what Vos thinks of lawmakers being able to call into meetings, if he would introduce a policy that allows it and, if not, why not.
June 4, 2019: Beyer responds to Marley saying Assembly rules don’t allow members to phone into committees and Vos does not support changing the rule.
July 29, 2019: The Journal Sentinel publishes a story that describes the dispute after Vos tells the newspaper he thinks it is "disrespectful for someone to be asking questions over a microphone or a speakerphone."
Aug. 8, 2019: The Democrats send their letter to Republican leadership.
That same day, Vos becomes president of NCSL.
The story about the Aug. 8 letter -- and a suggestion by Anderson that he may file a lawsuit -- was published a week later. That story is what prompted Vos’ claim on the Jay Weber show that it was -- in essence -- a move timed to embarrass him.
But the timeline shows that Anderson’s efforts began almost immediately after he took office in January 2019 -- nearly seven months before Vos took the post in question.
Vos’ office did not respond to requests from PolitiFact.
Vos claimed the accommodation request for Anderson was timed to embarrass him as he took over as president of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
But records show the effort began months and months earlier.
We rate Vos’ claim False.
1130 WISN Jay Weber Show, Vos joins Jay Weber: Evers gun law meeting, Foxconn and Rep. Jimmy Anderson, Aug. 15, 2019
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, A Wisconsin lawmaker who’s paralyzed isn’t allowed to call into meeting; he says that keeps him from doing his job, July 29, 2019
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, No Republicans sign letter urging Assembly speaker to allow paralyzed lawmaker to call in to meetings, Aug. 14, 2019
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Robin Vos accuses paralyzed lawmaker of trying to sabotage him by seeking accommodations, Aug. 15, 2019
E-mail exchange with Joshua Miller, legislative aide to Rep. Jimmy Anderson on Aug. 27, 2019
Phone call with Patrick Marley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter, on Aug. 27, 2019
Wisconsin State Journal, Robin Vos becomes president of bipartisan conference of state legislatures, Aug. 8, 2019
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