Bipartisan backlash after legislature slips open record changes in budget proposal at 11th hour

MADISON -- Wisconsin's freedom of information advocates are blasting a surprise GOP motion that would limit access to public records.

The provisions passed by the state's budget committee Thursday night would exempt nearly all records created by state and local government officials from the state's open records law. The measure passed on a 12-4 vote with all 12 Republicans voting for it. The full Legislature, and Gov. Scott Walker, still must sign off before they become law.

Brendan Fischer of the Center for Media and Democracy says the measure was likely drafted to help legislators avoid embarrassment.

Wisconsin Attorney General and Republican Brad Schimel says the provisions move the state in the wrong direction.

Walker's spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to an email Friday asking if Walker was involved in drafting the measure.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Scott Walker says he will work with Republican leaders in both chambers to change budget provisions that would exempt nearly all government records from the state's open records law.

Spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said in a statement Friday that Walker would work with leaders before the measure went to the full Legislature. She didn't immediately specify what changes would be made:

“Prior to the budget going to the full Legislature for action, Governor Walker plans to work with legislative leaders to make changes to the provisions included in the current proposal related to the state's open records law."

The measure was added to the state budget late Thursday in a surprise GOP motion. Advocacy groups and lawmakers in both parties blasted the measure Friday and asked that lawmakers reconsider. Sen. Robert Cowles, a Green Bay Republican, said he wouldn't support a budget that contains the provisions.

Democratic State Representative Mandela Barnes made this statement regarding the changes:

"This is one issue that liberals and conservatives alike have united around in this very short amount of time. In 24 hours, you’ve seen groups on both sides, on the farthest ends of the spectrum, unite around this issue because government should not be closed off to the people."

FOX6 News has since asked Spokeswoman Laurel Patrick what provisions Walker wants changed and whether he'd veto those items if they make it to his desk. She has yet to respond.

The full Legislature and Walker must sign off on the measure before it becomes law.