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State Open Government Bill Would Clarify Public Access to Bill Drafts

State Representative Louis J. Molepske, Jr. re-introduced the Open Government Act, legislation which attempts to clarify when bill drafts should be made available to the public.

From a media release from Rep. Molepske:

This bill sets up a process whereby the official's desire to keep bill drafts confidential is balanced against the public's expectation to inspect taxpayer-funded records prepared by state employees when the document is no longer in the "preparer's level of authority." It will be up to the official to determine if a draft is in the public domain or not....

According to a December 2003 Attorney General's opinion, the common legislative practice of providing drafts exclusively to third parties not empowered to draft legislation is already illegal under Wisconsin's Open Records laws. Some legislators have argued that limited public access protects the institutional integrity of the legislature and that an attorney-client relationship exists between legislators and drafting attorneys. However, the 2003 Attorney General's Opinion states that, "once an individual legislator selectively releases draft documents to a third party, any such privilege, if it exists, would be extinguished."...

Molepske's bill will codify the Attorney General's opinion by stating that once a bill draft is disclosed to an outside party, the draft may be subject to inspection and copying as provided under Wisconsin's Open Record Law; it is up to the legislator or official to determine whether or not to comply with an open records request. The bill will also provide guidance to legislative support agencies as to when they may release a bill draft to the public. The bill draft file and accompanying documents will remain confidential.

Source: The Wheeler Report