The Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly says he is not planning to pursue new changes to the state’s open records law, despite a report showing his office asked for a draft of legislation that would set new standards for lawmakers.
The liberal Center for Media and Democracy reported Tuesday that a member over Vos’ staff requested a bill draft July 23 that would carve out new exemptions in the open records law for the state Legislature. The proposal would have allowed each chamber of the Legislature to restrict access to records using rule changes, instead of requiring a change in law.
The request came just three weeks after a highly controversial provision was added to the state budget which would have made drastic changes to the open records law. Republicans quickly removed the language just days after its introduction, following a firestorm of criticism from constituents, the media, and open government groups.
Asked about the draft, Vos told reporters Tuesday that the request was simply meant as starting point for a study committee which may still be formed to look at the open records law. He said “we are not changing the open records law. The draft that happened was simply the end of the previous process that we went through.”
Vos has said the goal of the original changes were to protect constituents who may contact lawmakers with sensitive personal information. “We want to make sure that we have the maximum opportunity for the public to always know exactly what’s going on in government – but we also want to ensure that, when people petition their government, they have a reasonable expectation of privacy when there are issues that are delicate,” Vos told reporters.
Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) called the report another “brazen attack” on open government, and renewed calls for a state constitutional amendment that would protect access to public records. Vos rejected that idea, saying that there’s no reason government should not be able to review the law. However, he again stressed “that’s not our goal this session.”
AUDIO: Speaker Vos responds to calls for a constitutional amendment protecting open records (1:04)