Two days ago, the Joint Finance Committee inserted language into the proposed state budget that would have substantially - actually almost completely - immunized the legislature from the state's open records law. It's a very bad idea and it was greeted by spontaneous opposition from groups across the political spectrum, including my organization, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty who released a joint statement with the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy.
There is a reason we issued the statement in collaboration with our friends at MacIver. This time, it is Republicans who want to restrict government transparency. Four years ago, it was Democratic legislators who stonewalled MacIver's request for information. We represented MacIver in a lawsuit against Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D- Middleton). In defending against our suit, Sen. Erpenbach, at great public expense, argued, in part, for a view of the open records law that was just as bad - just as protective of the legislature's desire to keep things secret - as what the JFC attempted on July 2.
We won. Sen. Erpenbach's attempt to largely immunize the legislature from the open records law failed. The JFC's effort will fail as well. I predict that it will be pronounced dead, dead dead before noon on Monday. If it ever did get passed, my guess is that the Governor would veto it.
I understand that people in government don't much like the open records law. Compliance is time-consuming. The law was passed before the digital age - before things like e-mail exponentially increased the number of "documents" that individuals and organizations generate. In a world of simple-minded social media and hash tag philosophers, any effort to be candid in writing is likely to be turned into distorted attacks by partisans who either are incapable of understanding - or have no interest in - context.
Perhaps the law can be improved. But, as I said in our statement, transparency is the price you pay when you get to spend taxpayer dollars.
Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin