Right-wing media have heralded Wisconsin GOP senators' vote to pass Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union legislation through a series of parliamentary maneuvers. But these media outlets have ignored critics who have said that a maneuver used by the Republican senators in order to hold the vote "raises a lot of serious questions" and possibly violated the state's open meetings law.
WI Senate Passes Bill Limiting Collective Bargaining Rights Of Public Union Employees
WI Senate GOP Uses Parliamentary Procedure To Pass Collective Bargaining Bill Without Democrats. On March 9, Wisconsin Senate Republicans passed a bill that eliminates most collective bargaining rights for public union employees. The bill was then sent to a Senate-Assembly conference committee. From the Wisconsin State Journal:
In a surprise move late Wednesday, Senate Republicans used a series of parliamentary maneuvers to overcome a three-week stalemate with Democrats and pass an amended version of the governor's controversial budget repair bill.
With a crowd of protesters chanting outside their chambers, Senators approved Gov. Scott Walker's bill, which would strip most collective bargaining rights from public employees. The new bill removes fiscal elements of the proposal but still curbs collective bargaining and increases employee payments in pension and health benefits. The changes would amount to an approximate 8 percent pay cut for public workers.
After the session, Senate Republicans scattered, leaving no one to explain how they managed to pass components of the bill that seemed to have a fiscal impact, including changes in pensions and benefits, without the 20 senators needed to vote on fiscal matters. In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he had consulted with the Legislature's attorneys and "every item in tonight's bill follows the letter of the law."
The move ended a bizarre two-and-a-half hour legislative sprint in which the Senate hastily gaveled in and sent the measure to a Senate-Assembly conference committee, which typically works out differences between similar bills passed by the two houses. [Wisconsin State Journal, 3/10/11]
Critics Say That GOP's Maneuver "Raises A Lot Of Serious Questions" About Whether Wisconsin Law Was Violated
Media And Political Law Expert: GOP's Move "Raises A Lot Of Serious Questions." The Wisconsin State Journal reported on March 10:
Typically, 24 hours' notice is required for a public meeting. There are exceptions, but it was not clear Wednesday that the conference committee met those standards.
Attorney Robert Dreps, an expert in media and political law, said exceptions can be made if notice is "impossible or impractical."
"It raises a lot of serious questions," he said. "I don't think they can satisfy the standard for giving such short notice for that committee meeting."
Senate Chief Clerk Robert Marchant said such notice is not needed when the Senate is in special session, but Dreps said he knew of no such exemption.[Wisconsin State Journal, 3/10/11]
Journal Sentinel Reports That Senate Vote May Violate Wisconsin Law. A March 10 article in the Journal Sentinel noted that by not providing notice for the conference committee, Wisconsin Republicans may have violated the Open Meeting Law. From the Journal Sentinel:
Barca, a Kenosha Democrat, said his office received a notice of the committee meeting at 4:09 p.m., less than two hours before the lawmakers gathered to act.
Attorney Robert Dreps, an expert on the state open meetings law, said he did not believe the conference committee could meet on such short notice.
State law generally requires a 24-hour advance notice for public meetings. But government meetings can be called with just two hours' notice when it is impossible or impractical to alert people any sooner, said Dreps, who has represented the Journal Sentinel in the past. "I can't imagine how they can meet that standard," he said. [Journal Sentinel, 03/10/11]
Wisconsin AFL-CIO: The Legislature "Acted In Violation Of State Open Meeting Laws." From a Huffington Post report:
Labor officials quickly lambasted Republicans, calling what they did the "nuclear option." Last month, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) had said he would not pass any portions of the budget repair bill without Democrats' participation.
"Senate Republicans have exercised the nuclear option to ram through their bill attacking Wisconsin's working families in the dark of night," said Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt in a statement. "Walker and the Republicans acted in violation of state open meetings laws, and tonight's events have demonstrated they will do or say anything to pass their extreme agenda that attacks Wisconsin's working families."
Neuenfeldt's comment that the GOP may have violated state laws hints at a possible court challenge should the legislation be passed by both legislative chambers and signed by the governor. Later in his statement, Neuenfeldt also said that what Republicans did "is beyond reprehensible and possibly criminal." [Huffington Post, 3/10/11]
Wisconsin Teachers Union: Senate Acted "Illegally" In Passing The Bill. From the Huffington Post:
Given the abhorrent and illegal action taken by the Senate tonight, [Madison Teachers Inc.] has received many calls as to whether those represented by MTI will be at work tomorrow, but rather engage in political action," read a statement from MTI Executive Director John Matthews. "MTI advises those it represents to report to work tomorrow. The Senate's improper and illegal action will be challenged in court." [Huffington Post, 3/10/11]
One Wisconsin Now: The Republican Legislature Deliberately Violated The Open Meetings Law." In a March 10 press release, One Wisconsin Now wrote:
Under Gov. Walker's direction, the Republican legislature deliberately violated the open meetings law standards it has adopted for itself and every other governmental body in this state. The rules are clear and the Republicans broke them to pass this extreme assault on Wisconsin's working families."
The law requires 24 hours notice of every meeting 'unless for good cause such notice is impossible or impractical, in which case shorter notice may be given, but in no case may the notice be provided less than two hours in advance of the meeting.' Wisconsin Statutes s.19.84(3) Legislative rules take precedence over the open meetings law, but no rule authorizes a joint committee to meet without giving the public, and committee members, the 24 hours notice the open meetings law requires. The committee has not even claimed to have 'good cause' to shorten the notice period and, even if it could meet that standard, failed to give even the minimum two hours notice. [One Wisconsin Now, 03/10/11]
Right-Wing Media Cheer Bill's Passage In WI Senate, But Ignore Or Dismiss Experts' Concerns Over GOP's Actions
Doocy: If The WI Democrats Don't Like What Happened In WI, "Too Bad." The co-hosts devoted several segments of the March 10 edition of Fox & Friends to cheering the passage of the bill in the Wisconsin Senate. At the beginning of the show, co-host Steve Doocy dismissed Democrats' concerns that yesterday's proceedings may have violated Wisconsin's open meeting law. From the show:
GRETCHEN CARLSON (co-host): Well, we said that yesterday that, at least, I did, that I thought it was favorable to the governor that those e-mails were released, because it showed he was coming off his mark a little bit. But guess what? Now the Democrats are going to say, "Look, this was unconstitutional, what the Republicans did." They are claiming now it's a violation of Wisconsin's open meeting law because they only got two hours' notice.
DOOCY: Well, too bad. They left their jobs three weeks ago and then the Republicans gave them a chance, gave them a chance, "Come on back. We're going to take your parking, take your paycheck." Nothing. Understandably, the democrats in Wisconsin are furious. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/10/11]
Bolling: "I Was In The Car, Fist Pumping" When I Heard Fitzgerald; "That's Fantastic What They Did In WI." Later in the show, the co-hosts invited Fox Business host Eric Bolling on the air. At one point, Bolling said, "By the way, that interview with Scott Fitzgerald this morning on the phone -- I was in the car fist pumping. That is fantastic what they did there." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/10/11]
Hoft: "Pack Up Your Sleeping Bags, Kids. The Party's Over." In a March 9 post on Gateway Pundit, Jim Hoft wrote:
The Wisconsin Senate passed their union bill tonight 18-1.
The Senate democrats were still hiding in Illinois when the bill was passed.
The outraged leftists are pounding on the chamber door - they're honking their horns outside the capitol building.
Yee-hah. [Gateway Pundit, Jim Hoft, 03/09/11]
Fox Nation: Wisconsin GOP "Finish[ed] The People's Business." On March 9, the Fox Nation posted an appearance by GOP Wisconsin State Senator Glenn Grothman under the headline "GOP Wis. State Senator: We Had To Finish The People's Business." From the Fox Nation:
Foster: "The Fact Is That No Individual Human Being Lost A Single Right In Wisconsin Tonight." In a March 10 post on the National Review Online, Daniel Foster wrote:
As great a thing as I think the Wisconsin vote is for the taxpayers of the state, I have to admit I'm a little bummed right now. Why? For one thing I worry that something will happen in advance of the assembly vote tomorrow, or between the assembly vote and the signing, or in the courts in the months and years ahead.
The fact is that no individual human being lost a single right in Wisconsin tonight. Some gained the right to decide if they wanted to be represented by a group which had previously had the legal authority to take money from them in the form of dues whether they wanted to participate in that group or not. [National Review Online, 03/10/11]