Open up: Craig works to lift open records block from reform bill

Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 4, 2019

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — A bill that attempts to rein in single-bid contracts for transportation projects could be heading to the Senate floor soon — this time without strings attached that could weaken transparency.

State Sen. Dave Craig (R-Big Bend) said he’s confident Senate Republicans will jettison an amendment stuck on the reform bill in the 11th hour.

“We had an amendment that came through the Senate and Assembly transportation committees that would have expanded an exemption from the state’s open record laws, something the vast majority of Republican legislators would be opposed to,” Craig said.

On the final day of Senate debate on the state budget in June, Craig asked leadership to pull the amended bill from the floor.

As MacIver News Service reported at the time, the amendment language blocks lawmakers and the public from seeing certain records in the state Department of Transportation bidding process.

The single-bid reform bill requires the DOT to rebid projects that receive one bid, if a bid exceeds the department’s estimated cost of work by 10 percent or more. The requirement would not apply in instances of threat to public safety.

Craig and other critics of the amendment believe the broad amendment language to be open to mischief by parties interested in keeping taxpayer information out of the public eye.

“All records and information the department submits to the joint committee on finance under par. (c), and all records and information derived from those records or information, shall remain confidential and is [sic] exempt from disclosure” under Wisconsin’s open records law, the amendment states.

“Any violation of the confidentiality requirement under this paragraph by a state employee is grounds for dismissal.”

Under state law, the DOT does not have to disclose its project estimates. That’s designed to protect taxpayers, say proponents of the law.

But even legislative experts warned about the amendment language.

Gov. Tony Evers’ administration has had plenty of problems with transparency over his opening months in office. Should the bill with the attached amendment pass, lawmakers might find themselves open to the same transparency criticisms.

Craig said he has asked that the amendment be removed and he expressed confidence the Senate will vote on a clean bill soon.

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