Capitol Chaos: 4 Complaints Filed Against GOP

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- At least three public officials filed complaints Thursday alleging that Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate violated an open-meetings law by convening without proper notice.

The complaints ask that the vote that arose from the meeting be voided. The vote led to action taking away collective bargaining rights from public workers.

The complaints were filed separately by Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. Falk ran for governor as a Democrat in 2002 and for attorney general in 2006.

State law requires at least 24 hours' notice of a meeting, or two hours' notice in case of emergency. The notice for Wednesday's 6 p.m. meeting was given at 4:10 p.m.

Senate Clerk Rob Marchant said under Senate rules, no notice was required other than posting it on the legislative bulletin board. Despite that rule, he said, the Senate gave two hours' notice "as a courtesy."

The complaints were filed with the Dane County prosecutor's office. District attorney Ismael Ozanne said a fourth person had also filed a complaint.

"We're looking into the allegations," he said. "I can't say yet whether anything will come of it."

Cieslewicz and Falk also filed their complaints with the state Attorney General's office. A message left with that office was not immediately returned.

Wednesday's meeting represented a work-around designed to end an impasse over Republican Gov. Scott Walker's budget-repair bill. One part of the measure would strip most public workers of their collective bargaining rights, while other parts would increase the amount that public employees contribute to their health-care and pension costs.

The bill had passed in the Assembly. However, it stalled in the Senate three weeks ago when the 14 Democratic senators fled to Illinois, leaving the chamber one member short of the 20-person quorum needed for votes on financial issues.

But a special committee of lawmakers from both the Senate and Assembly voted at a meeting late Wednesday afternoon to remove all the spending measures from the legislation, thereby eliminating the need for a full quorum. The Senate approved the amended version minutes later, 18-1.

It was that initial meeting that Barca, Cieslewicz and Falk targeted with their complaints. They said the lawmakers provided insufficient notice, and argued that any decision reached at the meeting should be invalidated.

Wisconsin law states that when government officials meet in violation of open-meetings laws, any action taken at the meeting can be voided. However, the law also allows courts the option to let the action stand if it is deemed to be in the public interest.

Attendees who violate the open-meetings law can also be fined between $25 and $300 per instance.

If the district attorney fails to enforce any of the complaints within 20 days, the person who filed the action may file the action in court directly.

All three complaints name Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald. The complaints filed by Cieslewicz and Falk also name Sen. Michael Ellis, and Rep. Scott Suder.

Voice mailboxes for both Fitzgeralds were full Thursday. A message left for Suder was not immediately returned, and a call to Ellis rang unanswered.

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Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)