The beginning of the end of public records

Unbelievably, the Republicans have put the essential repeal of critical open records laws into their 999 budget motion. To wit:

Section 28 of the motion provides that “deliberative materials,” i.e., the information created in the course of of developing legislation, would not be subject to state open records law. If Section 28 had been in force, we in Wisconsin would never have learned that Scott Walker tried to remove the Wisconsin Idea, and the mission of the University of Wisconsin, from the state statutes.

Section 29 creates a new privilege — a “legislator privilege” — that gives a legislator the right to refuse to disclose virtually all communications s/he has with virtually everyone, AND to forbid his/her staffers to disclose such communications, whether written or oral. All the legislator needs to do is indicate that the communication was part of the legislative process, and s/he is home free.

This 999 motion imposes on the Legislative Reference Bureau and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau the requirement that they enforce the privilege and ensure that deliberative materials do not go to the wrong person. Under the motion, the LRB is no longer required even to maintain the files for all the drafting requests during the current session!

Wow! As Jon Erpenbach pointed out in debate, “Somebody in this building, somewhere, wants to hide something.”



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20 thoughts on “The beginning of the end of public records

  1. There is a whole lot of fishiness going on and the GOP is running very scared. It’s part of a disturbing pattern where the GOP’s reaction to getting caught is not to change ways, but try to reduce the chances of getting caught and exposed.

    Don’t like what the LAB says in their audits? Try to get rid of it and replace them with partisan hacks! Don’t like what the DNR’s Science Services Bureau says? Fire them! Don’t like journalists and citizens trying to find out what you’re REALLY doing and who’s telling you what to do? Dump the open records law!

    I know it’s uncouth to say the F word with these guys, but given how they want to remove any checks on their power and censor the flow of information with the public, what else can you call it?

    1. You could call it fascism, outright lying, authoritarianism, or any number of related adjectives, but it certainly does NOT equate to anything related to a theoretical, much less a practicable democratic republic in any respect.

  2. WOW! Perhaps it’s time for our Democratic state legislators to adjourn to the state of Illinois and citizens to take to the streets to express their outrage at this unjust law to hide or deny the truth of criminal actions by the GOP majority.

    1. Duane- You know, given that this is in the budget bill, and they need a 60% quorum to pass….

      Wisconsin 14 Part Deux?

      By the way, how can you retroactively deny my Open Records request on these grounds if I make it today? You can’t, it’s called an ex post facto law.

      Someone should ask our “Unintimidated” Governor what he thinks about this attempt to hide from the public who PAYS THEIR SALARIES.

  3. Duane – Yes, this calls for a response bigger than Act 10. (And they know it too, busting it out at 8pm the night of a holiday weekend — and what would the g.d. founding fathers they talk so much about think of such broad “legislative privilege?” This is a King George move…. if they’re not fascists, they’re at least neo-monarchists, take your pick.)

    Act 10 was a travesty, but this paves the way for a hundred more Act 10s (and GTac-writen Act 1s, etc) with zero accountability. And this is a direct assault on the press. If any state media outlets are still worth a damn, this is the time for them to show it with relentless and universal condemnation of this ridiculous, cowardly move.

    I’m hearing that it would have an effective date of yesterday, July 1. Does anyone know if that applies to the date of the record request, or the dates of the records? i.e., 3 months from now, could someone still file a request for records generated before July 1 (say, the drafting of this 999 motion)?

  4. Anyone who values open government – regardless of party affiliation – should be very concerned about what Republican just did. In virtually eliminating open records laws, they have created a situation in which government will be less accountable to taxpayers than ever before.

  5. I’ve contacted my local radio stations and newspaper editors and asked them to get a straight yes or no from our state Rep and District state Senator, both Republicans, TODAY, on whether they will vote for the budget with any of these non-fiscal items in it. Do the same, please.

  6. The revulsion in comments expressed in this morning ‘s paper by readers is explosive or fiery.

    This legislation may be a “final straw” or trigger to employ physical action extending beyond mere comments from readers to war against the GOP cowardly attempt to hide their legislative conspiracy and criminality.

    “A las Barricadas”

    1. Please note that in a concern for all human life, my call for action or war of “to the barricades” is non-violent and specifically excludes “Avec leurs tetes..”

  7. Given the reports that Sen. Fitzgerald has been having difficulty rounding up enough support within his own caucus to pass the budget, the open records changes could make a nice bargaining chip for Democratic votes. I’m just saying.

    1. Along the lines of the “bargaining chip” idea…

      Anybody think they’re doing this to give Walker something horrendous to veto? Make him look like some kind of bipartisan, moderate “hero for transparency” the week before he kicks off his presidential campaign?

      Also, this distracts from WEDC, terrible jobs numbers, and many other bad provisions in the budget, etc.

      1. I don’t buy the “make Walker look good by vetoing” theory, because this could well cost a few of these GOPs their seats. I can’t think that would be worth it.

        In addition, Dem Rep Gordon Hintz said that the GOPs on Joint Finamce told him that Walker was NOT planning to veto this, unlike some other provisions in the 999. I think they tried to sneak this in, because they’re just that clueless and scummy.

        Now it’s time to jump on these Fa*****s with both feet and not to let up until the Legislature actually removes this POS from the budget.

  8. On this the Democrats have an ally in the print media. Journal Sentinel news room and editorial board are all over this.

    Ernst-Ulrich Franzen ‏@efranzen1

    Not only outrageous but cowardly, too:
    Republicans mum on who wanted open records changes

    Franzen writes for JS on their editorial page.

    If Ms. Laning and state Dems can get this taken out of the budget, it’s one we can put in the “win” column.

  9. Have been watching for comments and statements. It’s not just the usual transparency advocates, liberal organizations and D-legislators whose heads are exploding like a scene from “The Kingsman: Secret Service.” Both the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty and The MacIver Institute have weighed in against the changes. As has Sen. Cowles.

    Time to make some popcorn!

  10. I suspect Walker is behind this as he was with the abortion bill. But I agree this could all be staged so that he can veto it and look like the “champion of the people” nationwide. But I also think its time to take over the Capitol and demand to know where this crap came from. WHOM EVER IT WAS OR WHAT GROUP OF LEGISLATORS PROMOTED THIS OR WHO TOOK IT FROM ALEC AND BROUGHT IT FORTH AT THE 11TH HOUR HAS TO STAND BEFORE THE PUBLIC AND BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE. This is enough of this abuse of power by the Republicans in office and the legislature and if necessary lets do the recalls again as this amounts to misconduct in public office by #999 being stuck into the budget at the last instant. Let’s stay in the Capitol until we are given the truth as to how this happened. Nygren and Darling owe the people of Wisconsin an answer and lets not go quietly until we get the truth!

  11. IMHO, this is coming right from ALEC. AFAIK, the American Legislative Exchange Council is ground zero for whatever law firms, accounting firms, media public relations outfits are getting big bucks to drive, coordinate the agendas of the elites, Wall Street CEO’s, Big Data (Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, AT&T, and the rest of the Telecoms….) Big Oil, Big Pharma, all the defense contractors, the health insurance oligopoly, Monsanto, ConAgra,…. paid to drive

    1. I skimmed through a PDF of Resolution 999 (the whole scummy 24 pages of it!) linked to from Uppity Wisconsin ( On pages 19-20 Nygren and Darling (their names are on the motion — they own it as far as I’m concerned) basically write the whole concept of a living wage out of State statutes. Was that further attack on low wage and struggling workers somehow not included in the final product? Because to me those provisions are almost as outrageous as the open records steaming pile, as outrageous as the removal of the “Labor Peace” goals that was included in the Right to Freeload (Right to Race to the Bottom?) bill.

      1. WisconsinWatch has a story up making a very compelling case that Walker himself requested trashing the open records laws:

        Christa Westerberg, vice president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, noted similarities between Walker’s invocation of a deliberative process exemption in recent months and the proposal in the “Motion 999” amendment to the state budget passed Thursday.

        “It’s strangely coincidental that we’re seeing the deliberative process exemption in the budget within months of the Governor’s office and Department of Administration attempting a similar exemption in recent (open records) responses,” said Westerberg, a Madison attorney who also is legal counsel for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

        “When the administration attempted this exemption this spring, it was really an unprecedented attempt to conceal decisionmaking documents about important issues in the budget.

  12. Are we not seeing something obvious here?

    Does our Governor Nerd want to be the only presidential candidate who advocates to deny access to public records?

    Walker may get more attention than the car clown, Trump. but it will cost him any serious consideration for his presidential ambition.

    My opinion re open records denial; it ain’t going to happen!

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