Bill Targets Governments’ Publishing Requirements

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By Charles Collier, The Denmark News

MADISON—Legislation under consideration in Madison would repeal a requirement for local school boards, technical college districts, counties, city councils, and villages in the state of Wisconsin to publish proceedings of regular and special meetings in newspapers which serve their constituents.

The law, AB 70/SB 42, is currently sponsored or co-sponsored by ten members of the Senate and 32 members of the Assembly, including Rep. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), Sen. David Steffen (R-Howard), and former Sen. Frank Lasee (R-De Pere) and is supported by an array of educational and municipal organizations, including the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities (LWM.)

Initiated by a 2016 WASB resolution to remove publishing requirements, the bill was expanded to include the other mentioned governmental bodies. Rather than publishing proceedings in a newspaper widely distributed within the respective district, a copy of the proceedings would need to be posted on a website controlled by the body for at least three years. A copy must also be posted in, “a public place.”

Four organizations have lobbied against the bill: the American Association of Retired Peoples (AARP), the League of Women Voters, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, and the Wisconsin Newspaper Association (WNA.)

An amendment offered by Lasee would mandate delivery of electronic copies to newspapers and would require an electronic notification system to be utilized for proceedings, though print publishing would not be required.

Publication rates are set annually by the Dept. of Administration and reflect postage and printing costs incurred by the newspaper. WNA has maintained an online database of all implicated notices in the state since 2005, including a digital copy of the newspaper indicating which page the notice first appeared, which WNA argues creates an inalterable historical record vital to the public’s “Right to Know.”

WNA estimated that the affected bodies collectively spent under $2 million in publishing costs in 2015 and AARP has argued elderly citizens would underserviced by the digital platform in testimony in March of this year.

“We’re probably the biggest readers of the minutes,” AARP representative Helen Marks Dicks said. “… We assume if (information) were important, it would come to us.”

The bill is scheduled for a vote as early as January 16.

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