JFC Motion Would Severely Restrict Access to WI Drafting Records and other Legislative “Deliberative Materials”

Late last night, Wisconsin’s Joint Committee on Finance passed a motion (motion #999) to the Wisconsin state budget that would exempt “deliberative materials” like legislative drafting records and legislative briefings from Wisconsin’s open records laws.

From the Capital Times:

Included in the 24-page motion were five sections of proposed changes that would severely restrict access to the once-public records of the Legislature.

  • “Deliberative materials” would not be considered public records. Deliberative materials would include “communications, opinions, analyses, briefings, background information, recommendations, suggestions, drafts, correspondence about drafts, and notes, created or prepared in the process of reaching a decision concerning a policy or course of action or in the process of drafting a document or formulating an official communication.”

  • A legislator would have the right to refuse disclosure of a broad swath of communications and records.

  • All drafting files and records related to reference, drafting and research requests by the Legislative Reference Bureau would be confidential and closed to the public “at all times.”

  • No section of the state’s public records law that conflicts with a rule enacted by the Legislature could apply to a record.

  • The confidentiality requirements placed on nonpartisan legislative service agencies may not be used to prohibit an agency staff member from communicating with a staff member from another similar agency.

Drafting records are used frequently by lawyers, journalists, analysts, and by the public to gain insight into the process by which legislation is created, influenced, and passed.  Restricting access to this information would fundamentally limit the ability to conduct legislative research in Wisconsin.

The provisions, which are slated to take effect retroactively on July 1, the day before the motion was introduced and the start of the state’s fiscal year, have received harsh criticism by both left and right wing commentators.

For more, watch this video by the MacIver Institute.

The budget now moves to the full Legislature, with the Assembly scheduled to take up the budget bill on Wednesday of next week and the Senate scheduled to take it up as soon as Tuesday.

Good news! – See update from the Wisconsin State Journal, July 6th:

In the face of withering criticism, Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican leaders of the Legislature announced Saturday that a provision added to the state budget to gut the open records law “will be removed from the budget in its entirety.”

See more from the Capital Times on who was involved with the motion.