Democrats introduce legislation to require public hearings for all non-fiscal items in budget

By Kate Pabich, NBC 15

 

 

A proposal that would have kept nearly all records created by Wisconsin elected officials from the public eye, is no longer included in the state's budget proposal. Governor Scott Walker announced that provision would be removed from the budget after backlash from it's sudden passage out of committee.
 
Now, one side of the aisle is now working to make sure every bill gets public input before becoming a law.
 
It might be confusing, because under Wisconsin's process, every bill, for the most part, does get a public hearing. But when it comes to passing the states two year budget, sometimes the proposals included in it sway from money, meaning they get around having a public hearing.

 

 

 

"It's unbelievable quite frankly, that in a state like Wisconsin, that anybody would dare bring forth a provision of this sort," said Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha).
 
With a minority in both the senate and assembly, democrats are doing what they can to pump the breaks on the GOP.
 
"We have a bill that would ensure that whenever non-fiscal policy items are thrown into the budget, that at the very least, at the very very least, our constituents have the respect and courtesy of having a public hearing and an executive session," added Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point).
 
Democrats said with this in place, majority or minority, no party can throw stuff into the budget last minute . Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council said being able to see the legislative process is educational, but it's also a very important to hold lawmakers accountable through those records.
 
He said the biggest issue with the open records proposal is that no lawmakers took credit for it.

 

 

 

"It should be impossible for any member of the legislature to propose legislation that does not have their name on it. I don't think we should have anonymously introduced legislation that fundamentally changes the contract between the government and citizens," Lueders said.
 
The bill will now be sent back to committee where the public will have opportunity to weigh in. 
UPDATED: Saturday, July 4, 2015
 
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- A spokeswoman for Gov. Scott Walker says he will work with Republican leaders in both chambers to change budget provisions that would exempt nearly all government records from the state's open records law.

 

 

 

UPDATED: Friday, July 3, 2015 --- 6:11 p.m.

 

 

 

MADISON, Wis. -- A provision that passed the Joint Finance Committee could limit your access to state and local government records.
 
The measure was added to the state budget late Thursday, sponsored by the Joint Finance Committee Republican co-chairs.

 

 

 

Those not in favor of this provision feel it won't hold public officials accountable for their actions.

 

 

 

"I think it's cowardly, I think it's frankly a despicable thing to do in this fashion. In any context, this would be a slap in the face to the people of WI. But to try and slide it through in this fashion, makes it even more objectionable," Bill Lueders, President of WI Freedom of Information Council said.
 
The provision passed by the state's budget committee would exempt nearly all records created by state and local government officials, from Wisconsin's open records law.
 
"Living in democracy, we rely on our access to open records to hold public officials accountable," Scot Ross, Executive Director of One Wisconsin Now said.
 
Included in the exemption of records would be all 'deliberative materials' meaning, all materials prepared in the process of making a law or policy, bill drafts, as well as all legislative communications with staff.
 
"It creates opportunities for abuse. In fact, I think abuse will become inevitable and so will actual corruption. If lawmakers know that anything they do can be shielded from public view, they will be doing things now that they never dared try," Lueders said.

 

 

 

A concern a number of Democratic lawmakers echoed on Friday, describing the provision as, 'an attack on our open records law', 'a secrecy for politicians', and an 'open door for corrupt politics'.

 

 

 

Republican Attorney General Brad Shimel released a statement on the matter saying, "Transparency is the cornerstone of democracy and the provisions in the Budget Bill limiting access to public records move Wisconsin in the wrong direction."
 
The provision passed 12-4 with all Republicans on the committee voting for it. NBC 15 reached out to all of them on this matter and have yet to get a response.
 
Governor Scott Walker's office did say he will work with Republican leaders in both chambers to change budget provisions before the measure goes to full legislature.
 
The legislature and Walker must sign off on the measure because it becomes law.

UPDATED: Friday, July 3, 2015 --- 4:58 p.m.
 
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- A spokeswoman for Gov. Scott Walker says he will work with Republican leaders in both chambers to change budget provisions that would exempt nearly all government records from the state's open records law.
 
Spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said in a statement Friday that Walker would work with leaders before the measure went to the full Legislature. She didn't immediately specify what changes would be made.
 
The measure was added to the state budget late Thursday in a surprise GOP motion. Advocacy groups and lawmakers in both parties blasted the measure Friday and asked that lawmakers reconsider. Sen. Robert Cowles, a Green Bay Republican, said he wouldn't support a budget that contains the provisions.
 
The full Legislature and Walker must sign off on the measure before it becomes law.

 

 

 

Copyright: Associated Press 2015

UPDATED: Friday, July 3, 2015 --- 12:06 p.m.
 
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin's freedom of information advocates are blasting a surprise GOP motion that would limit access to public records.
 
The provisions passed by the state's budget committee Thursday night would exempt nearly all records created by state and local government officials from the state's open records law. The measure passed on a 12-4 vote with all 12 Republicans voting for it. The full Legislature, and Gov. Scott Walker, still must sign off before they become law.
 
Brendan Fischer of the Center for Media and Democracy says the measure was likely drafted to help legislators avoid embarrassment.
 
Wisconsin Attorney General and Republican Brad Schimel says the provisions move the state in the wrong direction.
 
Walker's spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to an email Friday asking if Walker was involved in drafting the measure.