February 6, 2015
The publicly funded University of Wisconsin System would be able to keep the public in the dark about research conducted on its campuses under a proposal included in Republican Governor Scott Walker’s 2015-17 state budget.
The proposal would create a comprehensive exemption from the state’s Open Records Law for any commercial, scientific or technical research done by UW faculty or staff that university officials choose not to publicize or patent.
Under current law, the UW and other state and local public entities may deny access to records if they can make a case that the public’s right to know is outweighed by some type injury or damage that would be caused if the records are released.
“It would be invoked to prevent public access to records regarding controversial research,” Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said in a memo to members of the media. “It would keep the public from knowing details about the conduct of publicly funded institutions and allow abuses to go undetected.”
Lueders said in an interview that two other attempts by the UW to enact similar legislation failed in 2013 and 2014, and that proposals of this magnitude should be considered as stand-alone bills rather than slipped into the massive state budget measure.
The 2015-17 state budget bill, Senate Bill 21, will be considered by the legislature in the coming months.