Action Alert on Legislative Human Resources office

Action alerts
The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council is issuing an Action Alert on Assembly Bill 407, which creates the Legislative Human Resources Office as a legislative service agency. The bill, which passed the state Assembly on Tuesday and is scheduled for a Senate vote today, has concerning language that refers to a wide variety of records as “confidential” and that could create a bar to getting basic records under the open records law.
Specifically, the bill states in Section 6: “The legislative human resources office shall be strictly nonpartisan and shall at all times observe the confidential nature of records, requests, advice, complaints, reviews, investigations, disciplinary actions, and other information in its possession relating to human resources matters.”
At best, the bill is ambiguous as to whether it simply codifies existing statutory exemptions to disclosure; at worst it creates (or will be interpreted as creating) a broad new exception to disclosure for any records “relating to human resources matters” in the Legislature. This could apply to important records relating to matters including legislative misconduct, as well as mundane matters swept up in the bill’s broad language.
No other state or local body gets to entirely withhold any records relating to human resources, and there is no clear reason why the Legislature should be treated any differently.
This bill also goes farther than statutory exceptions to disclosure for other legislative service agencies. For example, Wis. Stat. s. 13.94 states that the Legislative Audit Bureau “shall be strictly nonpartisan and shall at all times observe the confidential nature of any audit currently being performed.” That’s it.
The bill is unnecessary, as employment-related records are subject to other exceptions in the law or, as appropriate, the balancing test.
We urge our members and allies to challenge the confidentiality provisions in this bill.
Christa Westerberg
Vice President
Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council