In a show of bipartisanship, members of the state Assembly on Thursday re-affirmed their support for Wisconsin’s open records law.
The chamber adopted a resolution from Democrats, sparked by a now-deleted state budget provision that would have lawmakers to keep many of their records secret from the public. Passage came after an amendment from Republicans removed the need for a legislative committee to act and softened the language to indicate the Assembly would work to uphold transparent government. The original proposal had pushed for opposing any changes to the open records law.
The original proposal, added to the budget by the Joint Finance Committee last Thursday, was removed by the state Senate earlier this week. The decision followed a massive public backlash over the changes, which open government advocates argued would have allowed elected officials to keep a wide array of records out of the public eye. Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) noted the action came only after that outcry, and accused the GOP of being “out of touch” with the public by proposing the changes in the first place.
While he ultimately voted for the resolution, JFC co-chair John Nygren (R-Marinette) offered some defense on the Assembly floor for what Republicans were looking for with the changes. The Marinette Republican said lawmakers are often contacted by members of the public on sensitive and life-changing issues and he does not believe “that it’s right to have people’s personal information and personal tragedies end up in the media.”
The measure passed on a 96-1 vote, with Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha) as the lone vote against its adoption. The Waukesha Republican said during a floor speech that he opposed the changes to the law, but disagreed with procedural games leadership were using to bring the resolution opposing them to the floor.