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***UPDATED*** Proposed Changes to Wisconsin's Open Records Law Hinder Public Access, Scrutiny of Government

Comments | Posted in News | By MI President Brett Healy | Posted July 3, 2015 12:06 PM


Madison, WI - July 5, 2015 - Late yesterday, Governor Scott Walker and legislative leaders put out a joint statement on the proposed changes to Wisconsin's open record law. The changes, adopted by the Joint Finance Committee on a 12-4 party line vote, would have made substantial changes to the law and shielded most records from the public's view. According to the statement:

After substantive discussion over the last day, we have agreed that the provisions relating to any changes in the state's open records law will be removed from the budget in its entirety. We are steadfastly committed to open and accountable government. The intended policy goal of these changes was to provide a reasonable solution to protect constituents' privacy and to encourage a deliberative process between elected officials and their staff in developing policy. It was never intended to inhibit transparent government in any way.

The statement went on to say that a Legislative Council Study Committee would be formed "to allow for public discussion and input."

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Changes Made to Transparency Inappropriately Made With Little Transparency

Original story Milwaukee and Madison, WI - July 3, 2015 - The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy and the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty release the following joint statement in reaction to sweeping changes proposed by the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee to the state's open records laws.

"The language of the motion is incredibly broad, giving legislators a near-blanket exemption from the Open Records Law," said Tom Kamenick, open government expert at WILL. "The new deliberative process exemption would be just as bad, allowing the government at all levels to hide the decision-making process from public oversight."

The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy, represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, successfully sued to force current State Senator Jon Erpenbach to turn over records he wrongly asserted were privileged communications.

MacIver Institute President Brett Healy continued, "Transparency in government is not a liberal or conservative issue, it is a good government issue. Taxpayers deserve access to government records, so they can keep politicians all across this great state honest and accountable. Therefore, it is frustrating that legislative Republicans, on the night before a holiday weekend, have taken steps to substantially weaken the ability of their constituents to gain access to crucial documents. As an organization that produces original news content, we employ the open records statutes to shed light on the machinations of government. Weakening those laws weakens the ability of citizens to see what their elected officials are doing."

Upon questioning from legislators on the Joint Finance Committee, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau confirmed that these exemptions would apply to all elected officials, not just the Legislature.

WILL President Rick Esenberg said, "I understand that transparency laws can be burdensome and policymakers would prefer to be free of nagging public scrutiny. It may even be that some improvements to the law are in order. But when you are spending tax dollars, transparency is the price you pay. The public has a right to know and this proposal guts it."

The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy is a Wisconsin-based think tank that promotes free markets, individual freedom, personal responsibility and limited government.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty is a non-profit, public interest law center promoting the public interest in constitutional and open government,individual liberty, and a robust civil society

Contact: Brett Healy, President, The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy 608-237-7290
Rick Esenberg, President and General Counsel, Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty 414-727-6367