Shankland, Democrats push new bill to prohibit policy issues from budget bill

By Larry Lee, WSAU Radio


MADISON, Wis. (WSAU) -- The late additions to the state budget bill Thursday night attempting to change open records law exemptions is still drawing criticism from all Democrats and many Republicans. Even though the proposal was hastily withdrawn, it has prompted several responses. Media members have filed open records requests trying to find out who wanted the open records law changed. Government watchdog groups are continuing to dig into where it came from. The minority party Democrats are also proposing legislation that would put an end to non-fiscal policy issues being placed in the budget, as both parties have often done when in the majority.

Assistant Minority Leader Katrina Shankland of Stevens Point says she had calls all weekend after the final budget amendment was released. "I heard from a lot of people everyday of the weekend when presumably, we'd be celebrating our freedoms July 4th weekend, but we actually had to defend our freedoms with this open government, open records law that is under attack, unfortunately, in the Legislature."

The short-lived proposal to change the open records law exemptions drew criticism from Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, and several Republican legislators say they were not aware of what leadership inserted in the budget amendment until they saw media reports.


Shankland says the now-dead proposal would have extended privileges to elected officials they shouldn't have. "They give Legislators more privileges for not disclosing information. I don't know a single person in this state who wants state legislators to have more privileges. They'd probably ask for fewer, to be quite frank."

Shankland says there is nothing wrong with the existing guidelines for open records, and they don't belong in a budget bill. "To provide such a drastic, radical, sweeping change to a strong open government law that most people in the state, whether Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green, Independent support is, in my mind, wrong, and I don't support any kind of change."


Her bill in the Assembly would have the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau review budget issues, and send non-fiscal policy items to an executive committee, which would be required to hold a hearing on the issues. It's something Shankland believes deserves bi-partisan support.  "I don't see this as being partisan at all. I would hope that members of both parties in the Legislature would be willing to support this."

Shankland says if this bill were already signed into law, it would have forced non-fiscal policy issues such as the battle over maintaining the IRIS Program into a separate public hearing where legislators, experts, and constituents could testify and share information.