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Wisconsin GOP Anti-Union Vote Violates State’s Open Meetings Law

By Ian Millhiser on March 10, 2011 at 9:45 am

"Wisconsin GOP Anti-Union Vote Violates State’s Open Meetings Law"

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Last night, Wisconsin GOP lawmakers called a surprise conference committee meeting and then rammed an anti-union bill through the state senate. Yet, by forcing the bill through without legally required public notice, the senators may have ensured that the bill will be declared void.

Wisconsin law requires all government meetings to be conducted publicly and with advance notice except under very limited circumstances. According to a guide to Wisconsin’s open meetings law prepared by the state’s Republican attorney general:

The provision in Wis. Stat. § 19.84(3) requires that every public notice of a meeting be given at least twenty-four hours in advance of the meeting, unless “for good cause” such notice is “impossible or impractical.” If “good cause” exists, the notice should be given as soon as possible and must be given at least two hours in advance of the meeting. … If there is any doubt whether “good cause” exists, the governmental body should provide the full twenty-four-hour notice. [...]

Wis. Stat. § 19.97(3) provides that a court may void any action taken at a meeting held in violation of the open meetings law if the court finds that the interest in enforcing the law outweighs any interest in maintaining the validity of the action.

Yet, when state Rep. Peter Barca (D) informed his colleagues of this legal requirement during tonight’s conference committee, the committee’s Republican majority ignored his protests and voted to approve the bill while Barca was still explaining why their actions were illegal. Watch it:

A few GOP-aligned outlets are now trying to claim that the law was not violated because the conference committee was announced two hours in advance. Yet there is no evidence whatsoever that it would have been “impossible or impractical” to give the full day’s notice required by law. In other words, Barca’s arguments are clearly consistent with the attorney general’s understanding of the law, and the most important open question is whether the courts will exercise their authority to “void any action taken at a meeting held in violation of the open meetings law” and invalidate this bill.

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