Wisconsin court reporters rally to keep officials’ funding in budget
In July, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker approved the state’s 2015-2017 budget, and, thanks in part to the efforts of the Wisconsin Court Reporters Association, help from NCRA’s legislative team, and Wisconsin Rep. John Nygren and Sen. Alberta Darling, who are part of the state’s Joint Finance Committee, changes that would have adversely affected court reporters were corrected.
“While I had attended NCRA’s Legislative Boot Camp twice and had learned about how to get a bill passed and through the legislation process, I did not know much about the budget process itself,” said Karla Sommer, RMR, CRR, CBC, of Wausau, Wis., president of the Wisconsin Court Reporters Association, who spearheaded the efforts in Wisconsin. “With the help of NCRA’s Government Relations team and our WCRA lobbyist, I was able to communicate the necessary information to our members. I learned the importance of having a strong and active board of directors, as well as the importance of employing a lobbyist in your own state who is familiar with the makeup of your own state legislators and can guide you based on that information. I learned that communication with your members is key. They want to help out and do what they can, but it is imperative to have a well-organized plan.”
The plan was for Sommer to keep the state’s reporters informed of the plans as the legislation moved through the House and Senate committees. The first draft of the budget did not include a way to pay court reporters. Although the governor’s office assured constituents that this was an oversight and would be fixed in the final budget, the Wisconsin court system and individual reporters worked to ensure that this would happen. Even the state’s Supreme Court Chief Justice, Shirley Abrahamson, spoke to the committee about the oversight, as well as other recommended changes to the budget.
The Wisconsin Court Reporters Association had representatives speak about the issues affecting the court reporters at the public budget meetings held throughout the state. Sheri Piontek and Karla Sommer presented testimony in Brillion, Wis. Milwaukee County Chief Judge Kremers spoke on court reporters’ behalf during the meeting in Milwaukee. Mary Burzysnki and District 10 Court Administrator Kristina Aschenbrenner offered their thoughts on the budget during the Rice Lake, Wis., meeting and Lindsay DeWaide, Patrick Weishan, and Dane County Judge David Flanagan supported the changes in the meeting at Reedsburg, Wis.
“We worked with our lobbyist, Bob Jentz, our attorney, Jordan Lamb, as well as Adam Finkel and Dave Wenhold from the NCRA Government Relations team to develop a plan,” said Sommer. “It was important that we band together and coordinate our efforts as well as rally support from judges, attorneys, and local bar associations.”
The association also worked with its members to contact Wisconsin legislators about the issues, engaging in grassroots efforts lobbying on behalf of official court reporters. However, as Sommer pointed out, “This issue affects all court reporters in the state because if officials’ positions are not maintained, they would likely seek freelance work, which would then affect the business of freelance reporters. That’s why we worked hard to get everyone’s help.”
In April, the Joint Finance Committee voted to delete the original provision and maintain funding and position authority for court reporters under the Circuit Court’s general program operations sum sufficient appropriation. Knowing that this was just one stop on the journey to a final budget, Sommer stayed in contact with Wisconsin court reporters to keep the resolution intact through the rest of the process. Many reporters, attorneys, and judges were asked to write letters to support keeping official court reporters’ positions funding in the budget.
Representative John Nygren from Marinette, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Finance, was instrumental in the success of the budget’s final form, says Sommer. But she also said: “I believe the letters by the judges and attorneys in support of court reporters, as well their verbal support at Joint Finance Committee meetings, reinforced the importance of the role that court reporters play in the judicial system.”