Wisconsin Freedom of Information
In Wisconsin, the Open Records Law is provided under Wis. Stat. 19.31 et seq. It is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of government bodies at all levels in Wisconsin. The introduction to Wisconsin’s statute states that, “all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them.”
The purpose of the Wisconsin law states that, “in recognition of the fact that a representative government is dependent upon an informed electorate, it is declared to be the public policy of the state that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them. Further, providing persons with such information is declared to be an essential function of a representative government and an integral part of the routine duties of officers and employees whose responsibility it is to provide such information. To that end, ss. 19.32 to 19.37 shall be construed in every instance with a presumption of complete public access, consistent with the conduct of governmental business. The denial of public access generally is contrary to the public interest, and only in an exceptional case may access be denied.”
Moreover, as a part of freedom of information, the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law sets out which meetings of which government bodies must be open to the public, the type and timing of public notice about the meetings and the requirements for public participation. Statutes 19.81-19.98 of the Wisconsin statutes define the law. The statement of purpose of the Open Meetings Act states:
- “In recognition of the fact that a representative government of the American type is dependent upon an informed electorate, it is declared to be the policy of the state that the public is entitled to the fullest and most complete information regarding the affairs of government as is compatible with the conduct of governmental business.
- To implement and ensure the public policy herein expressed, all meetings of all state and local governmental bodies shall be publicly held in places reasonably accessible to members of the public and shall be open to all citizens at all times unless otherwise expressly provided by law.
- In conformance with article IV, section 10, of the constitution, which states that the doors of each house shall remain open, except when the public welfare requires secrecy, it is declared to be the intent of the legislature to comply to the fullest extent with this sub-chapter.
- This sub-chapter shall be liberally construed to achieve the purposes set forth in this section, and the rule that penal statutes must be strictly construed shall be limited to the enforcement of forfeitures and shall not otherwise apply to actions brought under this sub-chapter or to interpretations thereof.”