Peoples’ Vote Would Compel Legislature to Adhere To Open Meeting Laws

(MADISON) Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) today introduced the Open Meetings Law Constitutional Amendment which, if ratified, would require Open Meeting Laws to apply to the Legislature.  The amendment would reverse the finding of the Supreme Court in Ozanne v. Fitzgerald where the Court ruled that the Legislature was free to regulate its own proceedings regardless of statutes.  This new amendment would require any court to apply the open meeting laws to the Legislature and its official bodies and require a 2/3 supermajority vote of the Legislature to change any open-meetings laws.

“The Supreme Court ruling in Ozanne v. Fitzgerald exempted the Legislature from complying with the open meeting laws.  This amendment gives the people the power to require or not require their Legislature to comply with the open meeting laws.  While the independence of the Legislature from the other branches is important, the Legislature is not independent from the will of the people to have the business of the state conducted in an open and transparent process.”  Senator Taylor commented.

The amendment (LRB 1376/2) requires the Legislature to enact open meetings laws, which are already defined in statute, and creates a requirement for a supermajority to amend those laws once enacted.  The 2/3 supermajority threshold prevents the majority party from changing open meeting laws to meet a political goal or need.  Taylor also noted that while Ozanne v. Fitzgerald related to one of the most watched political scenarios in the history of Wisconsin, the ruling allows the majority party, whether Democrat or Republican, to ignore the open meeting laws for any legislative action, even the most mundane. 

“The introduction and consideration of this amendment is not about re-litigating the past actions of this body.  Rather it is about the future of our republic form of government and the right of the people to open and transparent decision making on their behalf.  There is no firm requirement we give notice of our meetings or act in open session.  The people are resting on our promise alone that we will comply.  They should have the right to require us to comply.”

The amendment will be introduced in April.  All constitutional amendments require approval of two sessions of the Legislature and the ratification by a majority of Wisconsin voters.  This amendment could be on the ballot for citizen approval in April of 2015 should the Legislature act.


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