Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 1, 2020
MADISON — It looks like Gov. Tony Evers is reneging on another public promise.
In an alert to its members, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce on Wednesday said it has been made aware that Evers plans to release the names of more than 1,000 businesses that have had two or more employees test positive for COVID-19 since spring. The information could be released as soon as Friday.
If the Democrat does, he would be going back on his word and potentially breaking privacy laws in one fell swoop.
As Empower Wisconsin reported just two weeks ago, Evers had reversed his position.
“We believe that it’s information that is not public and it’s information that we need to keep in a way that not only protects the businesses, but more importantly it helps us monitor and helps us answer the questions about outbreaks and how to deal with outbreaks and do it in a way that isn’t a problem for us,” he said during a press conference. “So there’s some privacy things going on there.”
Business advocates were breathing a sigh of relief following the threat of public disclosures that could have been a huge liability issue for job creators.
As Empower Wisconsin first reported in July, the state Department of Health Services had planned to release the names of businesses with two or more coronavirus cases. When caught, DHS officials insisted they were receiving open records requests from hundreds of media outlets seeking the information, and that they had no other choice under the law. They had actually received requests from a handful of media outlets.
After pressure from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and other business groups, the agency paused in its plan.
DHS officials told Empower Wisconsin in July that the agency had “no immediate plans” to list businesses with COVID-19 positives on its website.
Sources say Evers changed his mind and his administration will now fill the public records requests, an interesting move from a governor who has earned a poor reputation for open government. The release is expected sometime Friday afternoon, with the outing of businesses that the state Department of Health Services has investigated over the run of the pandemic. That could involve a business that had a couple of COVID-19 cases in March, with employees long since having recovered. It could involve complaints from anyone — including individuals with an ax to grind against a business.
DHS officials did not return an email from Empower Wisconsin seeking comment.