via Ann, Rick, and Bill Lueders (champion of freedom of information whom we completely LOVE)
Your Chance to Speak Up
This Monday, you have a chance to speak up against the open records exemption. Our dedicated anti-viv committee volunteer, Ann, forwarded the following:
Senator Fred Risser and Representative Terese Berceau will be hosting a listening session at Madison Public Library – Sequoya Branch to hear from constituents about the budget. Please stop by to share your ideas and concerns. This is your opportunity to let your voice be heard.
Monday, March 16, 2015
5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Madison Public Library – Sequoya Branch
Meeting rooms A and B
4340 Tokay Boulevard
If you are unable to attend in person and have any questions, comments, or concerns about the budget or any other matters facing state government, please contact Senator Risser at Sen.Risser@legis.wisconsin.gov or Representative Berceau at Rep.Berceau@legis.wisconsin.gov
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you need a ride or can give a ride.
Below is some reading to help you understand the measure before you attend.
“The bill creates an exception to the open records law for information produced or collected by or for UWSA faculty or staff with respect to commercial, scientific, or technical research until that information is publicly disseminated or patented.”
The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council explains what this means:
This would create a blanket exemption for all records of UW research that university officials choose to not disseminate or patent. It would be invoked to prevent public access to records regarding controversial research. It would keep the public from knowing details about the conduct of publicly funded institutions and allow abuses to go undetected.
Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, R-New Berlin, introduced a bill last week that would exempt all materials tied to any commercial, scientific or technical research from the state’s open records law before the research is published.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison is seeking to limit the state’s open records law — potentially through language slipped into the state budget — to keep some research information from the public until it is published or patented.
Ernst-Ulrich Franzen editorial, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 8, Budget item to hide UW research is bad public policy:
But can the university offer examples of where research has been hurt by the current rules? Or examples of a loss of funding because they were unable to compete because of the current rules? As to the level-playing-field mantra, that can serve to cover a host of sins, and doesn’t condone following bad policy elsewhere.
This is bad public policy explicitly designed to hide what university researchers are doing, never mind the public relations claims of university spokespeople.
Racine Journal Times editorial, reprised in the Wisconsin State Journal, Feb. 10, Keep access to UW research records:
In theory, university officials want the ability to deny access to research records to protect researchers from having to disclose information that might allow others to peek at their research efforts and compromise possible patents.
In reality — as the 2013 attempt showed — the university was also trying to curb inquiries into research involving the use of animals. That’s not only controversial, but it’s a matter of university ethics and something the public needs to know.
Editorial in The Capital Times, Feb. 12, Don’t close records of UW animal researchers:
The researchers who use monkeys, cats and other animals in their research bristle at the scrutiny by animal rights groups, who complain that in many instances the research amounts to torture.
Their tenacity has caused researchers to explain and justify their methods, which is nothing more than what public employees working in public institutions with public money need to do.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, posted online Feb. 15, Scott Walker’s budget would allow UW to keep research secret:
“It doesn’t serve anybody’s best interest if science is being held privately or secretly,” said Joseph Ross, an assistant professor of general medicine at Yale University who studies drug company issues. “All scientists are better if their work is known and they are held accountable.”
Letter to the Editor, The Capital Times, Feb. 16, Bob Schwalb (Alliance member!), UW animal research records must be open to public:
I could not agree more that the absolute least we should accept from animal researchers is full public disclosure of their records. Creating an exemption for them does nothing but further the public distrust of an institution notorious for barbaric animal experiments.
Badger Herald article, Feb. 17, UW would be able to keep research secret under Walker’s proposed budget:
Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said there are internal checks on research, so it would not free researchers of all constraints. They still have to justify research for funders and to internal oversight committees, but would not have to share this information to the public unless the research is published, he said.
“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.
Your Right to Know column, Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, Feb. 18, Your Right to Know: Don’t let the UW hide research records:
Barker also cited the “very significant burden” of records law compliance. He said one recent request from USA Today for all open and closed session minutes for the UW-Madison’s Institutional Biosafety Committee “consumed much of one of our employee’s time for almost three-and-a-half months” because of the need to painstakingly redact certain information.
I checked in with USA Today reporter Nick Penzenstadler, who made this request. He said the paper obtained two years’ worth of minutes but noted that federal rules require these to be made public on request. In other words, changing state law would not alleviate the UW’s burden in this instance — a statement Barker, given a chance, did not refute.
Huffington Post, Stephen Wells of ALDF, March 9, Monkeying Around With the Law: Scott Walker Bill Aims to Allow University of Wisconsin to Keep Cruel Experiments on Baby Monkeys Secret:
The public, whose tax dollars fund these experiments, shouldn’t be kept in the dark. Nearly 400,000 people — including leading bioethicists — have already signed a petition calling for an end to these unimaginably cruel maternal deprivation experiments. Instead, Walker’s proposed legislation would mean an end to the transparency the public is entitled to under the law, allowing the experiments to continue under the shroud of secrecy in spite of public concerns.
A Superb FOIC Action Alert Everyone Should Read
Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, Bill Luders, sent Feb 5th, Action alert on proposed exemption for records of UW research:
Current law already allows state universities, like any state or local public authority, to deny access to records if they can make the case that the harm from release outweighs the presumption that the public is entitled to access. This bill would eviscerate that standard for the University of Wisconsin. No longer would our universities need a good reason, or any reason, to deny access.
We hope that advocates for open government in Wisconsin will unite in opposition to this bad idea.
A follow-up alert asked the subsequent questions:
1. What examples can university officials cite of research that could not be done in Wisconsin or where UW researchers lost opportunities to more secretive states because records of research are presumptively open under our open records law? It would be good to ask the UW for a handful of these examples, maybe 10 or so, and then check them out. Irony alert: Checking out such claims using records of research that did not lead to publication or patent would no longer be possible if this change is allowed to pass.
2. Which are the “more than 20” other states that Marsha Mailick, the UW-Madison’s interim vice-chancellor for research and graduate education, says now protect university research? Are these exemptions in other states as broad and as sweeping as the one proposed in Wisconsin? Do all of these other states also have, like Wisconsin, a mechanism within existing state law that allows records to be withheld if the public authority has a good reason for doing so?
3. What difference does it make if other states are doing it? Would you accept that excuse from a child? This is Wisconsin, where we don’t torpedo the public’s right to know just because that makes things less of a hassle for government bureaucrats.
4. News organizations should look for examples of past stories in Wisconsin that used records of research prior to publication or patent. Jason Stein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel identified some of these in his 2013 article on an earlier incarnation of this proposal. A more contemporary example is the story published last year by Isthmus and the Wis. Center for Investigative Journalism (where I work) on the UW’s plans to conduct controversial experiments on baby monkeys. That story, which was based extensively on records of approved but not yet conducted research, drew substantial public reaction and discussion. Is Wisconsin really better off not having these discussions?