The state Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee is nixing a provision in Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal that would’ve exempted some research at the University of Wisconsin System from open records laws.

The change is among several that the budget writing committee is making to Walker’s proposed budget. The committee met Wednesday to start tweaking the budget and will continue to meet until the full Legislature takes up the budget bill later this spring.

The proposal would’ve exempted some research from the open records law until it was published or patented. A similar proposal last year from Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, R-New Berlin, passed the Assembly but didn’t pass the Senate.

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William Barker, UW’s director of the office of research policy, said in a previous email to The Badger Herald the provision’s intent is not to keep research a secret. He said the university needed to be able to control the timing of release of information better.

Others have expressed concern over the system’s desire to keep research information private. Bill Lueders is the president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, which opposes the measure.

“It would mean if a citizen asked UW for records on an ongoing experiment involving baby monkeys or dangerous pathogens, the university could just say, ‘Sorry, we don’t have to give you that information,'” Lueders said in a previous interview.

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The finance committee eliminated a number of other non-fiscal provisions in Walker’s budget proposal, including Walker’s plan to demote the Natural Resources Board to an advisory council. This would strip the board of its rule-making powers.

Members of both parties raised questions about this part of the budget, which would significantly change the almost 100-year-old regulatory body.

The committee also unanimously rejected Walker’s plan to do away with independence for the state Judicial Commission, which investigates claims of misconduct among state Supreme Court justices. The original proposal would have given the high court authority over the commission, which would give it the power to strip the commission of funding or staff.

Justice Annette Ziegler, who’s seen as one of the conservative justices on the high court, recently told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel she felt this control is not the place of the Supreme Court.

“I’m not convinced the Supreme Court budget is the best place for the commission, with all due respect to the governor,” Ziegler said. “It looks like the commission is under our authority and control when frankly it shouldn’t be.”

The committee will meet again Friday to continue discussions and go through the budget line-by-line.

 

Wednesday’s meeting was the first of many, with the committee continuing to revise Walker’s budget and sending its version to the full Legislature, where it will likely see additional changes.

The committee often holds off on deciding on more controversial proposals, such as Walker’s proposed UW System cuts and flexibilities, until later in the process.

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