Republicans in legislature shun media requests to discover just who wants to end open records legislationblatant attacks on open records legislation in Wisconsin are nothing short of an attempt to stifle the public’s ability to become knowledgeable on the lawmaking process.
State Sen. Jon Erpenbach says it best: "Somebody in this building, somewhere, wants to hide something."
The proposal, attached to the all-important state budget bill, would allow lawmakers in the legislature to restrict access to the drafting notes and records on how (and who) requests to changes in laws are made.
Several journalists rely on this information in helping them shed light into how controversial bills are made. The Capital Times has a short list of recent examples:
In January 2014, the Wisconsin State Journal used drafting records to report that a controversial bill to allow high-income parents to avoid paying tens of thousands of dollars a year in child support was written with the help of a wealthy donor to the bill’s author, Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc.Emphases in bold added.
Drafting records showed in February that the University of Wisconsin had objected to a proposal in Gov. Scott Walker's budget to scrap the "Wisconsin Idea" from the UW's statutory mission statement.
And last month, a review of drafting records for a proposed 20-week abortion ban showed that it originally included language relating to the health of the mother that was later removed, then added once again as an amendment.
The biggest question on this issue, beyond why it’s being proposed, is who exactly is requesting the changes to open records law.
Reporters have asked several lawmakers that question, but so far they’re saying they don’t know who the author of the proposal is, or are just flatly refusing to answer the question when asked.
"It wasn't my motion," said committee co-chairwoman Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills.This sort of behavior, of avoiding the answers with a citation of ignorance, makes the Republican Party of Wisconsin deserving of a new moniker: as the current “Know-Nothing” Party of the state.
Pressed on who asked for the changes, both Darling and co-chairman Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said there were "multiple requests." Asked by reporters to give names, Darling walked away.
"Don't ask me," Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, said when asked whether he thought the changes are good for Wisconsin. "I didn't write it."
And oddly enough, their claim to ignorance is precisely why the people of Wisconsin deserve the open records laws that Republican lawmakers are trying to dismantle.
This provision needs to be removed from the budget immediately. And if it isn’t, and this budget gets passed with it intact, Gov. Scott Walker needs to use his line-item veto powers to remove it himself.
It will become transparent that the Wisconsin GOP doesn’t stand with the people of state if he does otherwise. Unfortunately, it will be the only transparent thing the people will know until open records laws are restored.