MADISON-- Representatives from the ACLU of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Public Education Network applauded those who testified at the state’s three in-person budget hearings, and pointed out the flaws in this year’s Joint Finance Committee hearing procedures, saying that this year, the public’s input was severely limited due to the location of the hearings and limited registration capacity for the virtual event.
Three in-person JFC hearings were held this cycle in sparsely populated areas of the state, including Whitewater, Menomonie and Rhinelander, which resulted in lower in-person testimony from Wisconsinites. In addition, only one virtual hearing is scheduled for April 28, which had limited registration for those who could not attend the in-person hearings, and filled up within minutes of registration going live this week.
“Instead of maximizing opportunities for public input by holding several virtual hearings and in-person JFC hearings in highly populated areas in Wisconsin, the committee instead held just three events in remote areas of the state, forcing Wisconsinites who wanted to share their input about the budget process to travel hours to make their voice heard,” said Heather DuBois Bourenane, executive director of Wisconsin Public Education Network. “With the sole virtual hearing already full, some of the people who testified in Menomonie yesterday drove from as far as Superior, Madison, Howard-Suamico, Milwaukee, and Kenosha to implore the legislature to invest in students, public schools, and criminal justice reform. Putting such an unfair and unrealistic burden on those who wish to be heard suggests a willful intention to minimize public input, particularly from the most populous parts of the state.”
“Registration for the virtual hearing was limited to just 200 people and scheduled to open at 10 a.m. April 19 and closed within minutes because capacity had reached,” said Molly Collins, advocacy director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “The fact that registration filled so quickly shows that that people were overwhelmingly interested in attending the virtual hearing, and no doubt, many were turned away from being a part of this process. That’s unacceptable. The budget process should reflect the values and needs of Wisconsinites, but how can it be if Wisconsinites were turned away from the process? The budget affects all Wisconsinites, but the Joint Finance Committee has made it impossible for most of our voices to be heard.”
Earlier this week, the ACLU of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Public Education Network joined 64 organizations in signing onto a letter to Joint Finance chairs demanding more virtual hearings. They have not received a response.
The Joint Finance Committee will continue to accept written testimony through April 30, and we strongly encourage Wisconsinites to share their priorities to influence this critically important piece of legislation.
Learn more about the budget priorities of ACLU-Wisconsin and Wisconsin Public Education Network partners at www.ACLU-WI.org and www.WisconsinNetwork.org/Budget. Testimony can be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or online at www.legis.wisconsin.gov/topics/budgetcomments.