Wisconsin is in an uproar, across party lines and ideologies, over a very controversial bill their house’s Joint Finance Committee recently passed. It’s not a bill that strips workers’ rights, minority rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, or any other rights along those lines. No, this bill takes away the right of everyone, including the press, including lobbyists, to know what their government is up to.
The bill would allow lawmakers to draft bills in secret, according to USA Today. That drastically reduces the ability of the people to know what their lawmakers are up to. It would also allow them to hide communications with each other and with others, and would apply to every government in Wisconsin, from local and county governments all the way up to the state government.
If the people can’t see what their lawmakers are up to, it dramatically reduces their ability to rally against laws they see as bad. Something that the lawmakers who came up with this bill likely didn’t think of is that it also dramatically reduces the ability of the people to rally in support around a bill, too. How is anybody to know what to support, and what to fight, if they don’t know what’s going on?
That’s the point, though. If people can’t see what their government is up to, the government is better able to do what it wants. According to PRWatch, lawmakers would also be able to hide the special interests that work to influence legislation. In other words, they could work with whomever they want, on whatever legislation, and the people wouldn’t know any better. PRWatch says that this measure, if passed and signed into law, would gut some of the best open records laws in the country.
However, if it passes, then no other state in the country would have laws that allow such secrecy to take place. It fundamentally undermines the democratic process, because it’s yet another step that silences the voice of the people. People can’t speak out when they’re in the dark.
PRWatch says that this bill is likely a response to a lawsuit that the Center for Media and Democracy filed against Governor Scott Walker in May, for unlawfully withholding public records that have to do with his office’s change to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s mission statement. Walker claimed that withholding those records was within his purview under “deliberative process privilege,” which doesn’t seem to exist under Wisconsin’s current open records laws.
Whether this bill is a response to that lawsuit or not, the fact remains that Wisconsin Republicans are trying to make secrecy in government processes legal. That will help them further destroy the state, and hurt the people who live there, and prevent those people from being able to do much to stop it. This is low, but, sadly, we can’t really expect much better from today’s GOP.