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Column: Importance of open government

4:24 PM, Mar. 11, 2013  |  Comments
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Sunshine Week is March 10 to 16.

Please join me in celebrating Wisconsin's vibrant "sunshine laws," the Public Records Law and the Open Meetings Law. These laws - and their diligent observance by records custodians and meetings organizers - provide broad access to information about how our state and local governments operate. The resulting public oversight forms an important foundation of our participatory democracy.

Last summer, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that a government authority responding to a public records request may not charge the requester for costs of removing, or "redacting," information that cannot be released from the records that will be provided in response to the request. That case is Milwaukee Journal Sentinel v. City of Milwaukee, 2012 WI 65, 341 Wis. 2d 607, 815 N.W.2d 367. The Public Records Law allows charging a requester only for specific authorized costs, the Court reasoned, and the authorized costs do not include record redaction. I am pleased that the Court agreed with my "friend of the court" brief on this issue.

This fall, our Department of Justice experts will explain authorized costs and other important aspects of the Public Records and Open Meetings Laws at a series of free public seminars. I invite readers to "save the date" for one of these worthwhile programs: Oct. 11 at the American Family Training Center (Madison), Oct. 29 at Waukesha County Technical College (Pewaukee), Oct. 31 (morning) for an Open Meetings Law webinar, and Oct. 31 (afternoon) for a Public Records Law webinar. Seminar registration will open Sept. 3 on the Department of Justice website, www.doj.state.wi.us.

I also invite readers to visit the new "Open Government" section of our Department of Justice website. Anyone may view, print or download useful public records and open meetings resources free of charge. Look for the "Open Government" box on our home page to find:

? Our comprehensive, user-friendly Wisconsin Public Records Law Compliance Outline and Wisconsin Open Meetings Law Compliance Guide.

? Recorded webinars on the Public Records Law and Open Meetings Law.

? Attorney General opinions, sample forms and other advisory guidance about the Public Records Law and Open Meetings Law.

Anyone with questions about these laws also can call the Department of Justice at 608-266-3952, leave a message and receive a return call from one of our public records or open meetings experts. Written inquiries may be sent to me at Post Office Box 7857, Madison, WI 53707-7857.

"Sunshine Week" is a one-week celebration, but let's recognize and honor its underlying purposes all year long. I encourage anyone interested in open government to attend our seminars, use our resources, and contact the Department of Justice whenever we can be of assistance in opening government operations to the "sunshine" of public oversight.

Please feel free to print and share the "Save the Date" flyer about the DOJ's Public Records and Open Meetings Laws upcoming seminars.

For an audio clip of this column, visit the following link: Sunshine Week Audio

J.B. Van Hollen is Wisconsin's attorney general.

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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

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