On Thursday night, Wisconsin GOP inserted a 24-page budget motion that exempts from the open records law just about anything issued by local and state government officials. If the motion is passed by legislators and gets Gov. Walker’s approval, it would mark the end of a long tradition of open government Wisconsin has been boasting about.
The measure, which was passed on a 12-4 vote would hide from the public eye everything governmental from legislative drafts to official minutes. Democrats criticized the move and deemed Republicans cowards for declining the measure to be publicly discussed and passing it on the eve of a major federal holiday.
The state’s open records law is considered to be one of the most transparent in the nation. The motion was hidden into the massive budget bill which is expected to be passed without further ado in the coming weeks.
The motion clearly protects special interests rather than the state’s citizens, critics say. It exempts records of all state and local officials from public disclosure and may be a perfect tool for legislature to pass controversial laws.
Yet, according to a recent lawsuit, Gov Walker supported the measure and will most likely sign it into law. The motion may prove useful to the governor especially now when he announced his GOP presidential nomination and more and more reporters file record requests with his office.
The heads of the budget committee that had voted for the measure declined to tell who requested the changes.
Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, a state transparency watchdog, deemed the measure an act of cowardice and a shocking assault to Wisconsin residents’ right to be informed.
The group also said that the measure would bar the public from learning what special interests drove some legislature measures and would inevitability result in “abuse, malfeasance and corruption.”
Ron Sklansky from the Wisconsin Legislative Counsel said that the current motion is by far the most devastating measure to public records law and government transparency he had seen in his entire career.
The move had all GOP members voting in favor, while all Democrats voted against, so it was clearly passed along a party line. Wisconsin’s Attorney General Brad Schimel, who is also a Republican, said that the new measure will move the state in “the wrong direction.”
“Transparency is the cornerstone of democracy,”
Mr. Schimel added.
Several legislators pledged they won’t vote a Budget Bill that represents a full-fledged “assault on democarcy.” Among them there were also some GOP representatives such as Sen Robert Cowles.
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