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Watchdog Says Open Records Fight Far from Over

Bill Lueders, who heads the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, says he will sue if necessary to find out who was behind an attempt to gut Wisconsin's Open Records Law. Courtesy of Wisconsin FOIC.
Bill Lueders, who heads the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, says he will sue if necessary to find out who was behind an attempt to gut Wisconsin's Open Records Law. Courtesy of Wisconsin FOIC.
July 7, 2015

MADISON, Wis. – Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, says his organization wants to know exactly who was behind last week's move to gut the state's Open Records law – something he will aggressively pursue.

Lueders says the measure, inserted in the state budget bill late at night just before the long Independence Day weekend, brought immediate, harsh, and nearly "universal" pushback.

The item was approved by the 12 Republican members of the powerful Joint Finance Committee, over the protests of the committee's four Democrats. Lueders says no one has said where the initiative for the proposal originated.

"The responsibility for this, we know, goes much deeper than just the people who came up with these horrible ideas," he says. "My intention will be to litigate this. I will sue them if they deny me access to that information."

According to Lueders, the proposal would have shut down public access to all records created in the process of drafting legislation, which he says would inevitably lead to abuse and corruption.

Senator Alberta Darling (R–River Hills), co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, walked away from a reporter who asked her whose idea it was. Leuders says even though the governor has said the proposal will be pulled from the budget bill – it isn't gone.

"They still, on some level, intend to pursue changes in the law, and I don't think that those changes are justified," he says. "I don't think we should be going down that path, particularly not with the group of people who tried to do this."

Governor Walker has said the proposal will be discussed as a separate measure outside the budget bill.

Lueders, who adds he was gratified by the swift public response to the proposal, describes it as a "frontal attack on Wisconsin's history of open government." He says his organization will continue to delve for details.

"We know that 12 members of the Joint Finance Committee did vote for these changes, knowing full well how devastating they would be to Wisconsin's tradition of open government," he says. "I think all 12 of those people really ought to be held accountable."

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI