After days of dodging questions about whether Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) was involved in a failed proposal to dismantle the state’s open records law, the governor’s office confirmed Tuesday that his office was involved in the measure.
“Legislative leaders let us know that they were interested in making changes to the open records law. In response, our staff provided input regarding these proposed changes,” Laurel Patrick, the press secretary for the governor, said in an email to TPM.
“Our intent with these changes was to encourage a deliberative process with state agencies in developing policy and legislation. This allows for robust debate with state agencies and public employees over the merit of policies and proposed initiatives as they are being formed, while ensuring materials related to final proposals, as well as information related to external stakeholders seeking to influence public policy, would remain fully transparent.”
The admission came shortly after Republican legislative leaders said Walker aides had been involved in writing the proposal, which would have removed certain communications and other legislative documents from under the scope of the state’s transparency laws and would have permitted lawmakers not to comply with other kinds of public records requests.
The language was initially approved by a party-line vote in the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee late Thursday evening before the holiday weekend, as part of a larger budget package known as Motion 999. As backlash began to mount, Walker, joined by top GOP state lawmakers, announced Saturday that the provisions would be dropped from the package.
Scrutiny continued, however, as to whether Walker was behind the measure, as he faces a lawsuit for refusing to turn over certain documents in a public records request.
Some Republican lawmakers in the state have continued to defend the effort, and say they will try to move alterations to public records law forward as standalone legislation that would go through the typical public review process, instead of attaching it to a budget bill.
“Our focus remains on ensuring open and accountable government and we encourage public debate and discussion of any potential future changes to the state’s open records law,” Patrick wrote in the email.