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As I See It

An affront to Wisconsin’s long history of open government

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Wisconsin has a long and proud tradition of openness in government. The courts have long been clear that government documents are considered to be a matter of public record, available for the public to inspect, except in rare circumstances. That has been the case for 40 years, until now. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled in a case that sets back Wisconsin’s open records law by decades. Previously, if an individual or media organization was refused records by a government agency, they could then sue to force the release of the records. If the requester prevailed, the records would be released, and the requester’s attorney fees would be covered by the government agency that withheld the records and forced the lawsuit. Not anymore. The court’s ruling makes it much easier for police or the mayor or the county or the school district to refuse to release public records without penalty. Under the ruling, a requester would not be reimbursed attorney fees if the agency refused to release documents before they were sued, but released them when faced with a lawsuit, the requester’s attorney fees would not be recovered. That gives the government license to withhold documents for no reason at all, but when faced with a lawsuit, simply turn them over with no consequences. This ruling renders the current law toothless and is an affront to the state’s long history of openness in government.

Scott Robert Shaw serves as WIZM Program Director and News Director, and delivers the morning news on WKTY, Z-93 and 95.7 The Rock. Scott has been at Mid-West Family La Crosse since 1989, and authors Wisconsin's only daily radio editorial, "As I See It" heard on WIZM each weekday morning and afternoon.

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