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Assembly speaker asked for open records changes (UPDATE)

By: Associated Press//July 23, 2015//

Assembly speaker asked for open records changes (UPDATE)

By: Associated Press//July 23, 2015//

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Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, left, speaks about the ongoing state budget deliberations during a press conference held by the Republican legislative leaders as Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, looks on in the Senate Parlor of the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis., on Wednesday, July 1, 2015. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (left), R-Rochester, speaks about the ongoing state budget deliberations during a news conference July 1 in Madison. Documents released under the state open records law show Vos was the legislator who drafted a proposal that would have made it more difficult for the public to monitor its elected leaders. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was the state lawmaker who drafted a proposal that would have gutted Wisconsin’s open records law and protected legislators from having to release documents currently available, documents released to The Associated Press on Thursday show.

Vos, a Republican, sent an email on June 29 to legislative leadership and support agencies to coordinate drafting of the amendment language, emails released by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s office showed. The emails were first reported on Thursday by the Wisconsin State Journal.

The amendment was added to the state budget by the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee on July 2, with only a couple hours’ notice. It was included in a final 24-page amendment that included 67 items.

Gov. Scott Walker, along with Fitzgerald and Vos, quickly backtracked in reaction to a swift and loud negative bipartisan reaction from lawmakers, liberal and conservative groups, media organizations and others.

The provision was stripped from the budget before it passed the Legislature and was signed into law July 12 by Walker.

The proposal would have allowed state and local lawmakers and their aides to keep nearly all records secret. It also would have also exempted drafting files of legislation, electronic communications and any materials determined to be part of the “deliberative process” of crafting bills.

The public outcry over the provision was evident in emails Fitzgerald’s office received over the July 4th holiday weekend in reaction to the proposal.

“What the hell is going on down there, do not screw with Wisconsin open records,” one unsigned email sent to Fitzgerald on July 5 said.

“Fitzy,” a July 5 email from Gary McGoey from Appleton began. “Nice job of trying to sabotage Wisconsin’s political integrity. Shame on you. Because of hacks like you I’m reluctant to admit I live in Wisconsin.”

Numerous people who sent emails demanded that Fitzgerald reveal whose idea it was to make the change. Fitzgerald, Vos and Walker had all said in the days after it was added to the budget that they had discussed making the change to the open records law.

Fitzgerald spokeswoman Myranda Tanck reiterated Thursday that Fitzgerald had been a part of the discussions on the changes, but she referred any questions about the origination of the idea to Vos’s office.

Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer issued a statement saying the language added to the budget was the result of a collaborative effort by the Senate, Assembly and Walker’s office.

“At the time of the email you reference, the concepts being discussed by Assembly Leadership were simple: Returning legislative powers ceded to the Executive Branch, and the idea that the Legislature should be able to set its own common sense policies on open records and retention of drafting files,” Beyer wrote. “The intention was to study the practices around the country and update our policies to catch up with advances in technology and to protect constituents.”

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick has previously said that legislative leaders told the governor’s office they wanted to make changes in the open records law and Walker’s staff provided input. She said Walker intended to “encourage a deliberative process” to develop policy and legislation.

Patrick did not immediately return an email seeking comment Thursday.

The Center for Media and Democracy is suing Walker’s office for drafting files surrounding his budget proposal to eliminate the Wisconsin Idea — the University of Wisconsin’s mission statement. Walker argues that the files are part of the deliberative process and should be kept private, an exemption not currently allowed under state law.


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