Extraordinary session changes could have open records implications

April Barker

MADISON -- Included in a package of lame-duck legislation that would weaken Wisconsin's incoming Democratic governor and attorney general is a measure that would allow state lawmakers to use more tax dollars in fights to keep government records secret.

"We don't know what government is up to, and they're supposed to be working for us," said April Barker, opens records attorney with Schott, Bublitz & Engel.

The proposed legislation would give state lawmakers more power to hire their own attorneys -- funded by tax dollars -- instead of relying on the attorney general's office.

Debate over GOP lame-duck legislation in Madison

"It ultimately means that the public at large, whether they're making public records requests or not, is potentially paying more money to keep government records secret," said Barker.

Barker said a change like this would make it easier for state lawmakers to use tax dollars to fight public requests for their spending records, calendars and emails. Private attorneys are readily available, have incentive to take issues to court and do not have the attorney general's obligation of protecting access to open records.

Extraordinary session aside, Barker said she hopes lawmakers take this message to heart.

"I would hope that they would consider and take to heart the fact that public access and transparency is really what I would consider to be a bipartisan issue," said Barker.

Those who support the changes said this is about balancing power, not restricting it.