Our Views: A second chance for Rep. Loudenbeck

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Gazette Editorial Board
Friday, March 17, 2017

Rep. Amy Loudenbeck has a chance to redeem herself.

The Republican from Clinton sits on the Joint Finance Committee and could prove influential in stopping a provision within Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget that would hamper the public's right to know by diverting many public notices published in newspapers to government websites.

A provision similar to the governor's proposal also is making its way through the Assembly as bill AB70. Another local legislator, Mark Spreitzer of Beloit, sits on a committee that will determine whether AB70 dies in committee or goes to the Assembly floor for consideration.

In interviews with The Gazette Editorial Board this month, Spreitzer and Loudenbeck voiced their opposition to plans that would allow local governments to post meeting minutes on their websites instead of in newspapers. We're reasonably confident in Spreitzer's position, though a little nervous about Loudenbeck's willingness to fight to get the provision removed from Walker's budget.

That's because two years ago she voted with her Republican colleagues on the Joint Finance Committee to gut Wisconsin's open record laws and block public access to legislators' emails and other materials that shine light on the legislative process.

The vote—taken right before the Fourth of July holiday weekend—lacked hearings or the kind of intense debate that one would expect to accompany such sweeping changes to open records laws. Only after newspapers noticed the maneuver and cried foul did the Joint Finance Committee scrap the plan.

It's unfortunate that newspapers must apply a microscope to legislators to get them to do the right thing. We'd like to think they go to the Capitol with an inherent understanding of the importance of transparent government, but some legislators see only dollar signs when crafting bills and miss the larger picture.

Walker and his allies are mistaken in believing that constituents will be receiving the same level of exposure to information by moving public notices to government websites, which aren't always easily accessible, especially for people with poor internet connections in rural areas.

Some proponents of eliminating publication requirements have accused newspapers of having ulterior motives, caring more about their pocketbooks than government transparency. But it's worth noting that the type of public notices being targeted by these proposals account for only 0.2 percent of The Gazette's revenue—that's right, two-tenths of 1 percent.

While The Gazette would of course prefer this tiny stream of revenue to continue flowing, money is a secondary issue. Our primary concern is the anti-transparency culture that seems to be festering in Madison, showing its ugly face whenever legislators or Walker sense an opportunity.

We hope Loudenbeck is prepared to stand up to her colleagues. She has a chance to put to rest our nagging concerns about her commitment to open records.

We want her to not only vote against any budget bill containing this change to publication requirements—we want her to be proactive and persuade others on the Joint Finance Committee to oppose it.


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