Legislative Republicans on Thursday passed sweeping changes to the state’s open records law that would dramatically curtail the kind of information available to the public about the work that public officials do.
The proposal blocks the public from reviewing nearly all records created by lawmakers, state and local officials or their aides, including electronic communications and the drafting files of legislation. The language was included in the final version of the state’s 2015-17 budget, which passed the Legislature’s budget committee on a party-line vote late Thursday. The budget bill next goes to the full Assembly and Senate.
The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee tucked the changes to the open records law into the version of the state budget proposal it passed Thursday night. The changes are sweeping, essentially allowing public officials to keep secret records that reveal how they do their jobs.
Like removing tenure from the state charter, this measure seems to have little to do with fiscal issues…If you are wondering who might have pushed this legislation, you can look back to this episode. (Or it could be the WEDC fiasco.)
Happy Fourth of July!
Update 7/4 8AM Pacific: “Catch 22, Wisconsin Edition”. From the Capital Times, Republicans refuse to identify lawmaker behind measure restricting access to legislative records:
The Capital Times has submitted an open records request for communications related to the changes. However, it’s unclear whether the request would be fulfilled under the new provisions.
(h/t Don Moynihan). You can’t make up this stuff. But it is entirely to be expected, in the Wisconsin of 2015.
Update 7/4 3:20PM Pacific: Thank goodness, though, that taxes on cigarettes etc. will be reduced by $1.1 million. For more on exactly what was stuffed into the motion at last minute, see Wisconsin Budget Blog. Here’s the partial list:
- sharply curtailing access to public records – particularly legislative communications, including drafting requests for bills (which are now open records once the bill is introduced);
- expanding the types of financial products and services a payday lending company may provide; eliminating the authority of the Dept. of Workforce Development to adopt rules setting a “living wage” (i.e., the minimum wage);
- changing the definition of lead-bearing paint;
- raising the bar for getting initial recognition to represent a collective bargaining unit;
- permitting employees to state in writing that they voluntarily choose not to have at least one day of rest each week;
- creating a process for resolving disputes over insurance coverage of chiropractic care;
- making various changes to the power of the Milwaukee County Board and the County Executive;
- and making it more difficult for a municipality that owns and operates a water or sewer utility to refuse to extend service to a neighboring locality.