I agree with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial Board on this one:
Some of Wisconsin's legislators apparently don't give their own constituents enough credit for common sense. Otherwise, they wouldn't be pushing for passage of a bill that would sharply scale back access to online court records.I strongly oppose the attempt to make public information more difficult to access.
Assembly Bill 685 and its Senate companion (SB 526) is the latest attempt to tinker with the state's online court records system known as CCAP. The bills would require removal of all records involving a case in which charges were dismissed or the defendant was found not guilty or the charge was overturned on appeal.
These records would remain public, of course, but they would not be easily accessible. The website's usefulness would be eroded through selective editing of the public record.
Some legislators worry that people subject to baseless criminal charges or lawsuits resolved years ago could be harmed if that information is available at the touch of a few keystrokes. But while they have a point, these records remain public records and should remain easily accessible to the public. The Wisconsin Consolidated Courts Automation Programs website is an essential tool that gets nearly 8 million visitors a year.
Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said he doesn't believe that many employers or others use CCAP to deny opportunities to applicants.
"Moreover, the Freedom of Information Council opposes the idea at the heart of this bill, that the way to deal with a perceived problem regarding the use of public information is to make it harder to obtain that information," Lueders said during a hearing on the bill last week. "More harm than good will come from this approach."
These are not confidential records. They are public and will remain public. So why remove them?
It's wrong for lawmakers to put up barriers to thwart the examination of information that is currently online and available to all via the Internet.
On Monday, March 10, Brett Healy, president of the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy, and Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, released a statement on SB 526:
"SB 526 is a horrible idea and a step in the wrong direction," said Healy. "Instead of trying to take public information off of the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (WCCA) website, the Legislature should be looking for ways to incorporate more public information on the site."I completely agree.
SB 526 would greatly restrict what public records are available on the WCCA website, or CCAP as it's called, and thus dramatically undercut the site's usefulness. Records showing that charges against an individual were dismissed or led to a finding of not guilty would no longer appear.
"Under this bill, WCCA would go from being a tool for tracking what happens in our state court system into being a registry of known offenders," Lueders said. "Only the names of those found guilty would appear."
Healy and Lueders agreed that if there is abuse of this information by employers and others to deny individuals opportunities, the state should look at ways to address that problem, not undercut an important tool for tracking what happens in the state's court system.
Recently, the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, which includes the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association and the Wisconsin Associated Press, testified against SB 526.
The Council opposes the idea that the way to deal with a perceived problem regarding the use of public information is to make it harder to obtain that information.
"We believe the people of Wisconsin can be trusted to make appropriate judgments about cases that are dismissed or lead to not-guilty verdicts," Lueders said. "They don't need lawmakers stepping in to prevent them from knowing what is happening in the court system they pay for."
Healy added, "With all of the important issues left for the Legislature to deal with in the closing days of the session, legislators should not waste any more time on SB 526. Wisconsin needs more transparency, not less."
"We believe the people of Wisconsin can be trusted to make appropriate judgments about cases that are dismissed or lead to not-guilty verdicts," Lueders said. "They don't need lawmakers stepping in to prevent them from knowing what is happening in the court system they pay for."Well said.
Making it more difficult for the PUBLIC to access PUBLIC information that is currently online is not in the best interest of tax-paying citizens.
Wisconsin legislators, stop messing with CCAP.