MADISON, Wis. — Did Assembly Education Committee Chair Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt violate state open government laws yesterday by engaging in discussions in the committee on school accountability legislation he authored, without public notice? One Wisconsin Now today called on authorities to investigate possible wrongdoing as the GOP attempts to put the controversial legislation, Assembly Bill 1 (AB 1), back on the fast track.
In a verified complaint based on information from witnesses, media reports and video and audio of the meeting One Wisconsin Now has filed a complaint with Attorney General Brad Schimel and Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne that, “Despite this clear lack of notice, Chair Thiesfeldt did, in violation of the open meetings law, convene a meeting of the Assembly Committee on Education and discuss Assembly Bill 1 and proposed Assembly Substitute Amendment 1 to Assembly Bill 1.”
The Assembly GOP kicked off the new legislative session by paying back the education privatization interests that helped get them elected with a new bill stacking the deck in their favor. At the time AB 1 guaranteed a majority for pro-privatization interests on a newly created Academic Review Board and would have required public schools failing to meet certain criteria to be re-opened as privately run charter schools.
At a bizarre public hearing in January, the chair and author Rep. Thiesfeldt as much as disavowed the version of the bill receiving a hearing and indicated he intended to make major, unspecified revisions.
What appear to be wholesale changes, introduced as a substitute amendment to the bill, were revealed publicly for the first time on Tuesday with the stated intention of holding a committee vote, but banning public input, on Thursday morning. Thiesfeldt added that the intention was to rush the previously unseen version of his legislation to the full Assembly next Tuesday during a discussion of the bill – held in possible violation of the law, with no prior public notice and before a quorum of the committee – after a joint hearing with a Senate committee had concluded.
One Wisconsin Now Deputy Director Mike Browne concluded, “In the GOP’s haste to pay back the voucher industry and minimize public scrutiny and input Rep. Thiesfeldt has gone from simply authoring a bad bill to engaging in bad government in possible violation of the law.”