In the face of withering criticism, Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican leaders of the Legislature announced Saturday that provisions added to the state budget to slash the state’s open records law “will be removed from the budget in its entirety.”

Walker made the announcement in a statement with GOP legislative leaders.

“We are steadfastly committed to open and accountable government,” the statement said. “The intended policy goal of these changes was to provide a reasonable solution to protect constituents’ privacy and to encourage a deliberative process between elected officials and their staff in developing ­policy. It was never intended to inhibit transparent government in any way.”

The statement said that the Legislature will form a Legislative Council committee to study the issue outside of the budget process.

No one claimed responsibility for requesting the language be added to a sweeping omnibus amendment that the budget committee passed late Thursday. And it’s unclear what role, if any, Walker played in the drama over the past few days.

But amid near-universal condemnation of the move and bipartisan demands that the language be withdrawn or that Walker use his partial veto power to strip it out of the budget if it passed, the governor and the leadership conceded defeat on the issue.

Republican leaders have refused to say who initially sought the changes or why. Among other things, the ­revisions would have rendered secret virtually all records and communications by lawmakers and policymakers at the state and local levels. Drafting files for legislation would have no longer been public, and legislators would have been granted a “legal privilege” or right to refuse to disclose any communication that occurred during the lawmaker’s term in office.

The measure stunned advocates of open government and prompted many lawmakers, including some Republicans, to pledge not to vote for a budget that contained the items.

“I’m glad they’re taking it out,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton. “But just the fact that they even tried to do this in the first place should bother everybody in this state.”

 

Wisconsin State Journal