July 7, 2015

Center director recounts media storm over open records

The Columbia Journalism Review interviewed the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s own Executive Director Andy Hall on the state Legislature’s recent attempts to broadly change Wisconsin’s open records law that spurred strong pushback.

“News organizations around the state showed that, despite recent staff reductions, when necessary, they can marshal resources to aggressively cover a story that literally threatens our democracy,” Hall said in the CJR article released Tuesday.

Political leaders on both sides of the aisle spoke out against the proposed open records changes, something not typically seen in a politically polarized state like Wisconsin.

“It does illustrate that people across a wide variety of occupations and political ideologies … actually do have a common stake in helping to preserve the free flow of information on the workings of government,” Hall said.

In a unanimous 32-0 vote Tuesday, the state Senate voted to delete the proposed open records changes. The Assembly is expected to do the same.

WCIJ reporters reviewed the 60 pages of drafting notes associated with the broad changes offered no clues about who initiated the proposals. Legislative Reference Bureau records indicate the changes were drafted in the week before the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee introduced and passed them Thursday on a party-line 12-4 vote without public debate.