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Publisher’s Letter

Senate Bill 55: The “Pull The Wool Over The Taxpayer’s Eyes” Act

Dear Reader,

They are at it again. This week the Wisconsin State Senate voted to pass SB 55 by a vote of 20 to 12. They should have called it “The Pull The Wool Over The Taxpayer’s Eyes Act,” because if Bill 55 is passed by the Assembly and signed by the Governor, governmental bodies would no longer be required to show their minutes and other notices in their local paper. This would make it much more difficult to find out what’s going on with your government.

The background: Currently county, city, and town governments as well as school boards are required to publish their minutes and notices from governmental proceedings in the newspaper. SB 55 ends that obligation and allows these public bodies to “publish” this information on their web sites. This will dramatically increase the effort citizens need to make to follow what’s going on in their local government.

How easy is it to find what you need on your local government’s web site? In some rare instances, it’s not too hard; but in many situations, it’s extremely difficult, because the relevant page is buried in a large web site with many pages and a challenging layout.

Why does the Senate want to throw a cloak over the government? We don’t know for sure, but we certainly have some questions about it. Is it because they think ordinary citizens like you and me “don’t need to know about it?” Are they afraid that open access makes it easier for citizens to sniff out shady practices?

Local newspapers are one of the most trusted sources of information. Often they are the only ones sending reporters and editors to city council meetings, school board meetings, and the police beat. People would have to go to a clunky government website to see what their elected officials are up to each week. That’s not a recipe for citizen involvement in our government; it’s a formula for keeping citizens out of the government’s hair. And sometimes getting in their hair is exactly what is called for.

We need to hold our government accountable. It should not be allowed to report on itself. Most governmental officials are honest men and women dedicated to serving the greater good of their communities. But as the saying goes, it takes only a few bad apples to ruin the barrel. A few dishonest leaders can make it difficult for everyone else. Highly visible legal notices are one way to prevent that kind of infection from taking over the government.

Please call or email your State Representatives and Governor Tony Evers to tell them to stop Bill 55. https:// docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/legislators/ senate. It is one more political move that just doesn’t make sense.

Patrick J. Wood

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