Throughout the past year, Gov. Scott Walker and legislative Republicans have severely tarnished Wisconsin’s longstanding reputation for clean, open government.
They have signed secrecy oaths to keep information from their constituents, locked the people out of the Capitol and blatantly violated the state Open Meetings Law, all in order to ram through extreme legislation without citizen input.
These Republicans have divided our state and act as if they are above the law.
As a result, a dark cloud of secrecy and scandal hangs over our once proud state government and the people’s trust in their elected state leaders has eroded.
My fellow Democrats and I recently unveiled a series of ethics reforms that undo the worst abuses of Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans. These reforms restore integrity to Wisconsin government at a time when it is needed the most. Included in that package of legislation is a proposed constitutional amendment that would require the legislature to simply follow the Open Meetings Law.
Right now, there is a loophole in state law that allows the legislature to enact its own rules when it comes to open meetings – even if legislators provide no public notice of a meeting or those rules violate the law. This amendment would close that loophole because nobody should be above the law.
Democrats urged Republicans to join us in approving this resolution so we could work toward re-establishing a more honest and transparent government in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, Rep. Kevin Petersen, R-Waupaca, and his Republican colleagues voted against it because they don’t believe the legislature should be held to the same standard for openness as other government bodies.
In our democracy, the public has a fundamental right to participate in the process and have a seat at the table when decisions are made.
Our citizens should be able to see what’s going on at every level of government – from the local library board to the state legislature.
In the coming weeks, we hope Rep. Petersen and other Republican legislators will have a change of heart and join us in working to restore integrity to Wisconsin government. Coming together in a bipartisan fashion to close this substantial loophole that gives the legislature special treatment – and leaves citizens in the dark – would be an important first step.
Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, is the author of a constitutional amendment that would require the legislature to follow Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law. He is an attorney and a member of the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.