It shouldn't have to take a constitutional amendment in order to have open government at the top level of state government.
But following a ruling by the state Supreme Court decision last month that said the Legislature literally can ignore the open meetings law, two state lawmakers have proposed just such an amendment.
Wisconsin has been a leader in assuring the public has free and unfettered access to meetings and records.
The state Legislature should be no different than a city council, town board, school board or county board. Proper notice — in most cases at least 24 hours — is not an impossible requirement for any level of government.
The state constitution already requires the doors to the Legislature be kept open to all when it is in session. But the high court said it could not, as an equal branch of state government, decide whether the Legislature had broken its own rules.
The legislative action, which occurred following a hastily called meeting to revise the budget repair bill, was challenged in court on the basis there was inadequate public notice for the meeting.
As a result, subsequent passage of the repair bill by the Senate was illegal, the lawsuit contended
The law — written in the summer of 1976 — clearly said the Legislature was to comply with the open meetings law. Former state Rep. Cal Potter, who represented Sheboygan and Kohler in the Legislature at the time the law was passed, noted then the intent was to remove any ambiguities and loopholes.
Putting open meetings rules as they apply to the Legislature into the constitution now would subject the Legislature and state lawmakers to penalties for violating them. It only makes sense to do just that.
And even though this change is being proposed following a court fight over legislation approved by a Republican-controlled Legislature, GOP lawmakers should be supporting the constitutional change. Not only is it the right thing to do, but some day the shoe likely will be on the other foot and Democrats will be in control, so this is really a nonpartisan issue.
Open meetings and open records are the pillars on which open government rests and giving them constitutional protection only strengthens them.