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Did Wisconsin Senators Break State’s Open Meetings Law?

In their haste to pass a union-busting bill in the dead of night, without a quorum, Wisconsin’s Republican senators may have violated the state’s open meetings law. As I report in Working In These Times, the Republicans are trying to cloud the issue by asserting that they followed senate rules, thereby sidestepping a Democratic lawmaker’s apparently well-founded complaint that they broke state law by not giving 24 hours’ notice for the 11th-hour conference committee meeting that preceded the vote.

The open meetings law says unequivocally that 24 hours’ notice is required, unless there’s some kind of emergency which makes it impractical to notify the public earlier. Even in an emergency, the law calls for no less than 2 hours’ notice, but Assembly Minority Leader Pete Barca says that was notified by email less than 2 hours before the meeting was to begin.

The Senate Majority leader insists that he didn’t have to notify anyone of anything, beyond tacking up a notice on the legislative bulletin board, because this was an emergency session. That’s probably true if you just go by the senate’s internal rules, but senate committees are also subject to state law. It’s doubtful that an emergency session of the state senate counts as an emergency for the purposes of the open meetings law.

Nobody is seriously arguing that extenuating circumstances prevented Senate Republicans from notifying the public earlier. Unless really badly wanting to pass a very unpopular bill by legally questionable means counts as an extenuating circumstance.

[Photo credit: Jong Soo (Peter) Lee, Creative Commons.]


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