Not long ago, I asked Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) for records regarding a controversial bill he helped author on free-speech rights at state universities. I had already obtained some communications between Vos aide Alicia Schweitzer and the Legislative Reference Bureau, from the bill-drafting file. They showed that his office had added bill language calling on UW-System schools to punish “indecent, profane, boisterous (or) obscene” conduct that interfered with others’ free speech. The LRB bill drafter, Mark Kunkel, deleted these terms, saying they were overly broad and ambiguous. But Schweitzer insisted that they be restored.
News deserts are geographical areas or socioeconomic groups that are parched of fresh, important local news, whether it’s a result of the shuttering of neighborhood newspapers, downsizing and the limited resources of news outlets or a lack of coverage of particular topics. Help WCIJ identify news deserts in Wisconsin by writing to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more than two centuries, governments in this country have paid newspapers to publish public notices about the actions of government. But now, Wisconsin state legislators are circulating a pair of bills, AB70 and SB42, that aim to take public notices out of newspapers and put them instead on government websites. It’s a bad idea that would harm transparency, democracy and public trust. Without a third-party, independent source providing the information, there is no accountability, no checks and balances to make sure that government is posting all the public notices it is required by law to post. Most Wisconsin residents continue to rely on the printed newspaper for information about their local elected governments, as they have for decades.
State Attorney General Brad Schimel has been a stand-up guy when it comes to open government issues in Wisconsin since he took over the Department of Justice in 2015. He created an office of open government, held a summit on government transparency, worked to improve records request response times within his own office, and took forceful issue with some of his fellow Republicans’ attempts to gut the state’s public records law last year. In April, he was given the Political Openness Award by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, which noted “how seriously he takes his statutory role to interpret and enforce the state’s openness laws.”