MADISON — Representatives of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association returned to the Capitol on Tuesday to testify against legislation that would eliminate newspaper publication requirements for local government meeting proceedings.
The WNA voiced its opposition to Senate Bill 42 during a public hearing before the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Commerce and Local Government.
Senate Bill 42 and its companion bill, Assembly Bill 70, would give school boards, city councils, village boards, county boards and technical college boards the option to post meeting proceedings on their own websites to fulfill publication requirements instead of printing them in a local newspaper, which is currently required by state law.
Gregg Walker, publisher of The Lakeland Times in Minocqua, addressed misconceptions about the newspaper industry during the public hearing and highlighted instances when his readers took action after reading public notices in the newspaper.
“Newspapers have been here, constantly serving the citizens of our state,” Walker said. “Changing from linotype to web presses, from typewriters to computers, and now using the best available technology to bring people the news – and with the news, public notices, including meeting minutes – our newspapers have served their role as the Fourth Estate well.
“In Wisconsin, people truly rely on us to give them the information they need to be informed about representative government,” he added. “Putting that responsibility in the hands of government officials is the exact opposite of what our Founding Fathers wanted for a representative government.”
The Assembly Committee on Local Government held a public hearing on Assembly Bill 70 on March 8, where representatives of the WNA and AARP of Wisconsin opposed the bill. WNA Executive Director Beth Bennett and Helen Marks Dicks of AARP of Wisconsin repeated their testimony at Tuesday’s public hearing on Senate Bill 42.
Prior to the public hearing, Senate Bill 42 co-sponsors Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, and Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, offered an amendment which would require local governments that choose to post meeting minutes online instead of in an official newspaper to also “transmit an electronic copy of the same proceedings to the official newspaper … or, if there is no official newspaper, to a newspaper likely to give notice.”
Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, said the same amendment was forthcoming for the Assembly version of the bill. Thiesfeldt said the amendment would ensure newspapers received a copy of the meeting proceedings as a matter of promoting government transparency, but the decision to publish the proceedings and the expenses associated with publication would be assumed by the newspaper.
Supporters of the bill who spoke at Tuesday’s hearing included Stroebel and Thiesfeldt; Kyle Christianson, director of government affairs for the Wisconsin Counties Association; and Dan Rossmiller, director of government relations for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB).
About the Wisconsin Newspaper Association
The Wisconsin Newspaper Association (WNA) was established in 1853 and is among the longest serving press associations in the world. Created by and for Wisconsin’s newspapers, WNA exists to strengthen the newspaper industry, enhance public understanding of the role of newspapers, and protect basic freedoms of press, speech and the free flow of information.
In addition to serving 218 member newspapers (31 dailies and 187 weeklies), WNA serves advertisers through advertising placement programs and additional clients through media monitoring services.
Wisconsin Newspaper Association
34 Schroeder Court, Suite 220
Madison, WI 53711