It's telling that no one in the Wisconsin legislature wants to take credit for inserting language in a budget bill that would drastically restrict government records available to the public. The Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 along partisan lines, with Republicans voting yes, to advance a bill that includes several provisions, inserted sometime Thursday, that would make secret the kind of information that would shed light on how such maneuvers take place. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jason Stein summarized the changes this way:
The GOP plan would limit public records requests for lawmakers' communications with their staff and for drafting records of legislation after it's been introduced. It would also exempt a host of records created by the Walker administration, state agencies and local governments and put new limits on public access to information about dismissed criminal charges in some instances.
The measure would also give lawmakers a broad legal privilege that would allow them to refrain from releasing records when they are sued and bar their current and former staff from disclosing information legislators wanted kept private.
Stein's story notes that these kinds of records have been used by journalists and others in recent years to show how a taconite company helped loosen environmental protections, and how Gov. Scott Walker had tried to eliminate the cherished "Wisconsin Idea" from the University of Wisconsin mission.
If this bill becomes law, it would bring the same obscurity to Madison that already rules in St. Paul, where lawmakers exempted themselves from the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. So despite its political differences, Wisconsin wants to be like Minnesota after all, when it comes to government secrecy.
The relevant provisons are 28 through 32 on this document.