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Our view: Chalk one up for open government

4:10 PM, Feb. 11, 2014  |  Comments
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Indignation averted. This is how it is supposed to work.

We were fully prepared to take state Rep. Mike Kuglitsch to task. The New Berlin Republican introduced a bill last week that would keep all University of Wisconsin research activities secret until the research is published. The key word is all.

Rep. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, said he would not bring the measure to a vote in the Assembly colleges committee because open records laws already exempt draft research materials that would reveal trade secrets. The law also allows universities to keep records secret if officials feel the harm from releasing them outweighs the public's right to know.

It is a big deal. UW-Madison faculty hold more scientific patents than any other public university in the country, according to the website of the University Research Park, which partners with UW to conduct research in biotechnology and other developing fields. Millions are spent on research and the UW takes proprietary information seriously.

And it should. Huge money is at stake and distinguished faculty members often are drawn to centers of learning by research possibilities. Research grants fund much of the work, but tax dollars also are involved.

That means a veil of secrecy must not completely shroud university research projects. The public has a right to know - even in general terms - what the university its taxes support is doing with research dollars.

Nass, to his credit, said Kuglitsch's bill will not get a hearing as long as current exemptions in the open records law remain in effect. There is no reason to believe those provisions will go away any time soon, so it will remain incumbent on UW researchers to continue to provide some information about their award-winning research efforts.

Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said the issue must be taken seriously and asked that media outlets "respond with indignation" to the Kuglitsch proposal. It appears that won't be necessary, unless the measure again rears its ugly head in the legislative process.

For now, thankfully, we'll chalk one up for government transparency and openness.

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