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Wisconsin Senate Republicans Ignore Warning That They Are Breaking Law
On MSNBC’s The Ed Show host Ed Schultz talked with Democratic lawmakers last night right after the Wisconsin senate Republicans rammed through Walker’s union busting bill 18-1 to strip Wisconsin public employees of their collective bargaining rights. Republicans did so in spite of being warned by Democratic assemblyman Minority Leader Peter Barka that they were violating the state’s open meeting law. Democratic members of the state assembly including Minority Leader Barka joined Ed to discuss the legality of Republicans’ power grab.
Here is Representative Barca attempting to stop them:
BARCA: The opening meetings laws must be con screwed in favor of the fullness and –
REPUBLICAN CHAIRMAN: Mr. Barca– Representative Barca.
REPUBLICAN: Call roll.
BARCA: No, no, listen. If there’s any doubt as to whether good cause exists, the governmental body should provide 24 hours’ notice. This is clearly a violation of the open meetings law. Now, if you shut the people down, it is improper to move forward with the open meetings law. You’re not allowing it. And that is why. Mr. chairman, this is a violation of law. This is not just a rule, it is the law. There must be –
REPUBLICAN CHARIMAN: You’re wrong.
BARCA: No, Mr. Chairman, this is a violation of the open meetings law. It requires 24 — at least 24 hours’ notice. Excuse me.
Naturally, the Republicans completely ignored Barca. The Republicans were warned and still rode rough shod over the Democratic assemblyman Minority Leader’s warnings. It’s important to note this, as this will be put in front of the Attorney General, a Republican, today. The Wisconsin DOJ website claims to be committed to upholding the open meeting law, stating, “The Attorney General and the Department of Justice continue to advocate for open government. Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law, enacted in 1976, attempts to promote openness in government.”
The open meetings law typically requires24 hour notice be given.The two most basic requirements of the open meetings law are that a governmental body:
(1) Give advance public notice of each of its meetings, and
(2) Conduct all of its business in open session, unless an exemption to the open session requirement applies.
In determining whether open meeting laws were violated, the judge balances the public’s right to information and the government’s need to efficiently conduct its business. “This reasonableness standard “requires a case-specific analysis.” In making that determination, the factors to be considered include: “ the burden of providing more detailed notice,  whether the subject is of particular public interest, and  whether it involves non-routine action that the public would be unlikely to anticipate.”
The Republicans rushed the conference committee during which they stripped everything from the bill but collective bargaining and then the committee immediately sent the bill to the Senate, where it was passed without debate. This occurred after a day in which all reports were that both sides were negotiating. Senate Republican Grothman talked to Isthmus’ The Daily Page about the hasty vote last night and admitted that he knew it was a controversial vote, but claims it was appropriate:
The West Bend conservative was adamant that the bizarre process by which the bill was passed tonight, which befuddled Democrats and press alike, was an appropriate conclusion to weeks of stalemate. He said he and his Senate colleagues have been advised not to go to the Capitol tomorrow, for safety’s sake. Grothman acknowledges that many of his colleagues could face serious recall campaigns. “It’s a very scary thing,” he says. “I’m aware of the fact that it was a very controversial vote.”
Ed had on members of the Democratic assembly, state Representatives Mark Pachen and Cory Mason as well as Minority Leader Barca to discuss the implications of the Senate Republicans power grab. Ed asked Minority Leader Barca how sure he was that the law was violated. Barca replied, “Well, we’re very confident, Ed. The law is very clear, and in fact, our current Republican Attorney General, Van Hallon, issued a memo defining it. We will be seeking legal recourse as early as tomorrow morning. and we are looking at every single option. But this law cannot stand.”
Ed asked if Barka was confident that the Republican AG would rule in favor of the law. Barka went on to explain, “We’ll find out tomorrow morning. I would hope so. he’s taken an oath of office to uphold the law, regardless of whether it’s Democrat or Republican. It’s the people of Wisconsin’s interests that are at stake here. …. If he does not, he is not the only person authorized to challenge the open meetings law. And we will be prepared if he’s not willing to carry forward his responsibilities.”
Ed moved on to ask Mark Pachen what he felt would be the results of the Republicans passing the bill through without notice. Pachen replied that he is sure the Senate will flip Democratic, “Well, I think the move tonight, and what’s happened in the culmination of the last three weeks has guaranteed that the senate is going to flip to Democratic. I have no question that these recalls are going to happen. They’re going to be successful. And when you treat state government like a third world junta, and that’s what the Governor and Republicans have done, then you’ll have the people coming back and I think you’re going to see a lot of the senators getting recalled and we’re going to have a Democratic senate to finally provide a check and balance.”
Barca closed by explaining that the people of Wisconsin were outraged, “Well, people are clearly outraged. Tonight the citizens of Wisconsin were cheated out of their democracy. There was a clear violation of the law. And we believe that it will not stand… They’ve proved tonight that it had nothing to do with the fiscal policy of the state, because they took out the key stone of that bill which was a bonding that the governor said he needed in order to not lay off workers. So the charade is up. The people of Wisconsin were cheated.”
The very fact that Gov. Scott Walker and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau pushed this bill through after stripping it of all fiscal content was a huge reversal from their claims that they needed to strip unions of their collective bargaining rights in order to “balance the budget”. By passing the bill without a quorum, they admitted that getting rid of collective bargaining was their goal, and Walker’s bill had nothing to do with the budget. But even this move is questionable, as the new bill kills collective bargaining and but it also increases employee payments in pension and health benefits, a change which strikes me as fiscal in nature and therefore requiring a quorum of 20 senators. Republicans literally fled the room after the vote.
If senate Republicans violated the open meeting law, they did so after being read the law and warned by Democratic Minority Leader Barka, and it was all captured on tape. Today, Attorney General Van Hollen will determine if a stay will be granted on Walker’s union busting bill based on a violation by the Wisconsin senate Republicans of the state open meeting law. As Barca pointed out, the open meetings law is not a senate rule, but a law and therefore a serious charge against the Wisconsin Republicans.