Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council
June 27, 2013
Capital Newspapers Auditorium
1) Call to order. Meeting was called to order at 2:10 p.m. In attendance were Dee Hall, Bill Lueders, Mark Pitsch, Dave Bennett, Beth Bennett, Mary Callen, John Dye, Mike King, Doug Wojcik, Tom Bier, Michael Buelow, David Haynes, Andy Hall and Bob Dreps, with guest Michael Phillis.
2) Approval of minutes. Changes were made to the minutes to reflect the correct date –
– April 18, 2013 — to delete a phrase in No. 6 referring to an ongoing newspaper investigation and in No. 13, changing “Contract Sunshine” to “Open Book Wisconsin.”
3) Treasurer’s report. Lueders presented the report, which showed a balance of $4,815.
4) President’s report. Lueders presented the following:
a) He and VP Christa Westerberg met with representatives from central Europe, Africa, South America, Asia and Cuba to discuss the state of openness in government. He said the openness laws in central Europe are fairly strong, with Germany posting every agreement between the government and any company. The group seemed concerned about how open our process was — such as posting the names of recall petition signers. They felt it opened people up to retaliation.
b) Lueders said he and Westerberg successfully intervened in a town of Iron River records issue and DFI’s initial refusal to released names of licensed mortgage brokers and bankers. The AG’s office has still not responded to the council’s request that it rethink letting court clerks charge people per-page copy fees to take their own photographs of court records.
c) The council filed an amicus brief in a case in which the issue is the right of public access to jury selection. Dreps wrote the brief and WisFOIC did not have to pay.
d) Lueders announced he will be gone June 28-July 13 and Westerberg would be gone July 3-11. Beth Bennett offered to answer media inquiries in their absence.
5) National FOIC meeting. Pitsch reported on the conference in New Orleans in mid-May. He discussed a push to have FOIC organizations do more lobbying but most have little staff. There was a discussion on how to grow local organizations and that funders were pushing for such councils to be self-sufficient. He said WisFOIC should consider using the web platform developed by the national coalition. He highlighted a University of Virginia project to create software that would “decode” state laws to make them easier to read.
6) Legislative update: Lueders reported no change since the last meeting in the push to expunge criminal records in some cases. He also said there has been no movement on Rep. Garey Bies’ bill to let records custodians charge for redaction and review of records, which the Supreme Court disallowed. He discussed bills to open legislative caucus meetings and make lawmakers subject to the open meetings law. UW-Madison is seeking a broad exemption to the open-records law for research documents but the Joint Finance Committee refused to put it in the budget bill. One budget change would restrict the information that voucher schools would have to release. Dreps said no one is sure what the impact of the measure is. Lueders reported on a proposed bill by some legislative Democrats to dramatically reduce the access of court records. Beth Bennett discussed WNA’s ongoing efforts to draft language that would require closed meetings to be taped, similar to Illinois. She said closed-door meeting violations dropped off after the law was passed there.
7) Legal update: The council discussed Dane County Circuit Judge Rebecca St. John’s decision to deny an effort by DA Ismael Ozanne to subpoena a WISC-TV videotape of an alleged rape victim. Dreps reported on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’ s lawsuit against the Department of Health Services to obtain the state’s leases with landlords to provide housing for sexual offenders. The state had redacted the addresses and names of the landlords. Dreps also discussed a tussle by the Lakeland Times and a local school district over whether it complied with an open-records request.
8) Issue: Drivers Privacy Protection Act. The council discussed the ongoing problems with local law enforcement interpreting the federal DPPA to require the deletion of information from drivers licenses. The Attorney General’s office has declined to render an opinion, saying it wants to wait until the issue is decided in the federal courts. Callen reported that at least 40 Wisconsin municipalities were now redacting the names of drivers on public records for fear of being sued. Lueders suggested that media outlets continue to highlight the misinterpretation by municipalities of the Palatine case.
9) Issue: Should the council back legislation to require all non-fiscal budget amendments, or all bills, to bear the name of the person who authors them? There was unanimous consent to support such a bill. King said he was “flabbergasted” that measures could be placed into the budget anonymously. Lueders suggested someone do a Your Right to Know column on the practice. Pitsch offered to write it.
10) Issue: Center for Media and Democracy lawsuit against GOP lawmaker. Can disclaimers put whammy on law? The council discussed CMD’s efforts to get documents from lawmakers distributed by the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC now stamps its documents with a disclaimer saying they are not subject to state open-records laws. Dreps said the declaration has no legal weight.
11) Other topics: U.S. Supreme Court allows Virginia to restrict state records only to state residents. California rescinds a law that would have “eviscerated” that state’s open-records law. Dreps said it was a fiscal issue, not an attempt to evade the law.
12) FOIC website. Lueders suggested waiting a while to switch over to the national FOIC’s web platform.
13) Your Right to Know column. About 27 papers picked up Sarah Karon’s column about the state ACLU’s perspective on voucher schools. Pitsch offered to write about secret budget amendments. Dye suggested a column highlighting the use of the UW-Extension’s open government CD. Buelow said he would do a column on “Open Book Wisconsin” if it ever starts operating.
14) Council membership. Nothing new.
15) Other business. Andy Hall said DNR changed a meeting location without notice, wasting a day of one of his reporter’s time. Lueders said he intervened and DNR was contrite. King mentioned that Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn wants to talk to the council to resolve issues of access, especially by photographers, to crime scenes in Milwaukee. The council picked Oct. 3 as the next meeting date.
16) Adjourn. The council adjourned at 4 p.m.