Wisconsin bills would limit requests on open records

| 11/14/2007

Two bills in the Wisconsin Assembly would make changes to the state’s open records law.

Wisconsin law now authorizes residents to inspect or obtain records maintained by agencies in the state.

Sponsored by Rep. Gary Bies, R-Sister Bay, the bill – AB522 – is intended to require that open records requests intended for law enforcement agencies go directly to the initiating law enforcement agency. Other agencies would be prohibited from releasing information.

Critics say the bill’s wording is too broad and vague. Others say the changes proposed to the open records law would severely limit what documents are available for the public.

Supporters say it doesn’t change what documents can be released under the law just where the request must be made. It ensures open records requests go to the initiating police department who would know the status of the case, they say.

Concerns about the wording led the Assembly Judiciary and Ethics Committee to delay consideration of the bill until changes can be made.

Another bill also would revise Wisconsin’s open records law by putting controls on the state’s court records database.

Sponsored by Rep. Marlin Schneider, D-Wisconsin Rapids, the bill would limit online access to judges, law enforcement officials and prosecutors. The public would have to get permission to access the database or visit a county courthouse to view a person’s public court record.

Requestors would have to disclose their relationship to the person whose record is sought. Explanations for the request, name and address information also would be required.

Schneider’s bill – AB418 – is in the Assembly Corrections and Courts Committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Wisconsin in 2007, click here.