Wisconsin FOIA procedures

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Each state varies slightly in the procedures used to gain access to public documents. This article serves to describe specifically the steps used in Wisconsin. To read the history and details of Wisconsin’s sunshine laws please see Wisconsin Open Records Law

How to request public records in Wisconsin

It is important to note that Wisconsin law requires all departments to post their methods for filing an open records request. The legislature and local government are exempted from this statute. [1] These methods must include the nomination of at least one records custodian for each department. Records requests should be directed tot he official records custodian of the organization in possession of the records.

Purpose and use

Wisconsin's statute--Wis. Stat. § 19.35(1)(i)--says, "Except as authorized under this paragraph, no request . . . may be refused because the person making the request is unwilling . . . to state the purpose of the request."

However, in Hempel v. City of Baraboo, a 2005 decision of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the court said, "In fact, requesters under the Open Records Law need not identify themselves, or state a purpose for their request...When performing a balancing test, however, a records custodian almost inevitably must evaluate context to some degree."[2] This seems to suggest that a records custodian has some leeway to inquire about the requester and the purpose of the request since it would not be possible "to evaluate context to some degree"--which the court suggests is a perogative of the records custodian--in the absence of any information about the requester and his or her motivations.

In 2008, the West Bend School District denied a records request partly on the basis of what it believed about the requester and her motivations.[3],[4]

Somewhat enigmatically, the statute says, "A requester shall comply with any regulations or restrictions upon ... use of information which are specifically prescribed by law."

Who may request public records?

See also: List of who can make public record requests by state

In general, "any requester has a right to inspect any record." (Wis. Stat. 19.35(1)(a)). However, people who are incarcerated and people who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution are restricted in their rights of access to public documents.

Contrary to the law in some other states, individuals who are litigants in a pending lawsuit with a governmental agency do not lose any of their rights as requestors with respect to documents they want from that agency.

Fees

See also: How much do public records cost?

Wisconsin law allows for fees to be charged to cover the cost of not only duplication but the labor involved in the search if the cost in labor to the department is over $50. Waivers are allowed, only if the material requested is in the public interest.[5]

Response time

See also: Request response times by state

The Wisconsin law does not specify a time requirement for request responses. However, requests may be denied orally. If the person making the request desires a written denial, then he or she must make that known within 5 days. [6]The Wisconsin law does not specify a time requirement for request responses. However, requests may be denied orally. If the person making the request desires a written denial, then he or she must make that known within 5 days. [7]

See also

External links

References