Legislature Exempts Itself From Open Records
While requiring it of all other governments in state.
In Wisconsin, cities, police and fire departments, state agencies, and even the governor’s office are required to retain public records and make these available to the public. For example, emails generated by staff in the Department of Justice must be retained for three years from the date of creation and then transferred to the Wisconsin Historical Society or UW-Madison archives. For most of our state’s history, these rules also applied to those who wrote the laws.
But decades ago, when it wrote the law, the Legislature decided to exempt itself from having to retain most records. This exemption means the state’s 99 representatives and 33 senators can simply destroy or delete records in their possession that they would like to shield from public scrutiny.
This quirk in the law has been used by some legislators to protect constituents’ personal information, and by others to hide their communications with corporate interest groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. And I know that some of my colleagues in the Senate make it a point to delete their calendars daily.
The fix is easy. We can simply pass a law to delete the legislative exemption to record keeping and bring the state Legislature in line with the Public Records Management and Preservation Program.
This coming legislative session, Sen Chris Larsen will reintroduce a bill he co-authored in 2011 with former state Senators Tim Cullen and Jim Holperin to do away with this outdated exemption. When this bill was last introduced, legislative Republicans refused to even give it a public hearing.
Show your support for Sen Larson's bill for transparency on our government.