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As I See It

Wisconsin legislators need to comply with open records law

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Wisconsin’s open records laws are quite clear. The public is entitled to see things like agendas and minutes from government meetings, unless there is a compelling reason to withhold them. The law has been very effective for many years, documenting instances of sexual harassment of police misbehavior. The law applies to all government bodies in the state, but the Wisconsin State Legislature refuses to follow the law. The law says those public records belong to you and I, but the clerks of the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate repeatedly refuse to release them. For example, when Assemblywoman Lena Taylor of Milwaukee was investigated for allegations of harassment and discrimination, the complaint was never released. They only released a summary of the investigation. As open records advocates argue, that doesn’t even make sense, because if the summary is accurate, then why not release all the supporting documents? Courts have repeatedly ruled that public agencies need to release investigative records because the public’s right to know outweighs any privacy concerns. But still, our elected officials in Madison hide behind the privacy argument when refusing to release public documents. Perhaps no surprise, given that members of the legislature are legally allowed to delete their public documents. Wisconsin’s open records law is strong but needs to apply to our legislators as well.

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