Over the past year Jeff Fitzgerald and the Wisconsin Assembly went to great lengths to limit the public’s ability to see them at work in the Assembly chamber. Many of their most recent and most extreme bills have passed under cover of darkness between the hours of midnight and 4am despite Governor Walkers campaign promise to outlaw such after hours lawmaking.
The Assembly also limits the publics ability to document or record their behavior. Wisconsin State Statute 19.90 specifies. “Whenever a governmental body holds a meeting in open session, the body shall make a reasonable effort to accommodate any person desiring to record, film or photograph the meeting. This section does not permit recording, filming or photographing such a meeting in a manner that interferes with the conduct of the meetings or the rights of the participants.”
Despite the clear and unambiguous wording of this State Statute, the Assembly Rules, under a new (and unpublished) rule, forbid filming or photographing from the gallery.
Dozens of citizens have been arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for quietly filming their legislators on the Assembly floor.
In their efforts to limit what the public can see the GOP leaders of the Assembly have found a reliable ally in the timid Capitol press corps, whose governing body, the Wisconsin Capitol Correspondents Association (WCCA), acts as an enforcer of the Assembly rules d’jour, by denying or revoking press credentials of journalists who dare point their cameras at things Jeff Fitzgerald would prefer remain hidden.
A recent video, showing Rep. Joel Kleefisch voting for Assembly colleagues who were too busy elsewhere to show up and vote for themselves, helps to explain why the Assembly is so camera shy:
Strict enforcement of rules in the public galleries, it appears, serves to protect lawless behavior on the Assembly floor by legislators themselves. In this video, not only do legislators blithely vote for absent members in apparent violation of Assembly rules – and in violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the draconian anti-voter fraud laws these same people enthusiastically endorsed a few months ago – they also use cell phones and engage in other conduct banned in the Assembly, for which they have stridently upbraided members of the public who did the same in the gallery.
Does the public have a right to know what actually happens in the Legislature? Evidently the GOP leaders of the Assembly and the WCCA think not. Reaction to the video of Kleefisch voting for truant representatives, on the other hand, suggests that the public might disagree.