Your Right to Know: Lawmakers abuse budget-fix motion

It’s been nearly two years since Republicans in the state Legislature tried to use a secretive, last-minute measure just before the July 4 holiday weekend to gut Wisconsin’s open records law. This effort, once publicized, was met with public outrage and abandoned. This was the most egregious but by no means only example of lawmakers trying to slip bad ideas into the state budget bill in the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, under what is known as a 999 motion. As lawmakers prepare to wrap up the 2017-19 state budget by July 1, the 999 motion remains a serious threat to open government and the public interest. Originally intended to address technical issues and correct problems in the budget bill before it goes to the full Legislature, 999 motions have increasingly been used by both parties as a hiding spot for pet projects.

WCIJ Associate Director Lauren Fuhrmann named to national Emerging Leaders Council by Institute for Nonprofit News

Lauren Fuhrmann, associate director of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, is among 10 mid-career professionals selected for the first Investigative News Network Emerging Leaders Council, a peer group of leading business and news leaders who will meet for a year to work on news industry challenges, build support networks and develop professional skills.

Your Right to Know: Walker’s order on records is welcome

In March, for the second year in a row, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker issued an executive order regarding the state’s open records law. It notes that “the American republic and the State of Wisconsin were founded on the basis of broad accountability of government to the people.” And it declares that “the free flow of information from the government to the people instills trust and confidence in our democracy and ensures that our government is accessible, accountable, and open.”
The order directs state agencies to track and post their record response times and, like last year’s order, gives procedural guidance that should make it easier for citizens to request and receive records. It instructs agencies to charge no more than 15 cents per page for provided photocopies and to charge no more than $30 per hour for government employees’ time spent locating records. It directs that agency meeting notices be posted in a centralized location on Wisconsin.gov, making these more accessible to the public. And it prescribes records training “for all employees and members of all boards, councils, and commissions.”
The governor issued his executive order just as media outlets were analyzing state agencies’ performance since the 2016 order.

Wisconsin’s ‘news deserts’ hurt our democracy — but you can help

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 msato@wisconsinwatch.org.

Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council names ‘Opee’ winners

Two citizens, two journalists, one fired government worker and one small but gutsy Wisconsin newspaper are among the recipients of the 2016-17 Openness Awards, or Opees, bestowed annually by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council. The awards, announced in advance of national Sunshine Week (sunshineweek.org), March 12-18, recognize extraordinary achievement in the cause of open government.

Your Right to Know: Keep public notices in print

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.