Expected 2016 Republican presidential candidate and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker backtracked on legislation that would have restricted open records access amid harsh backlash from critics in the last two days, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Saturday. The open records law was part of a broader state budget plan currently being considered.
A joint finance committee for the state Senate and Assembly voted Thursday along party lines to advance a measure that included the open records restrictions. The same day, Walker filed a letter with the Federal Election Commission announcing he had met the formal qualifications to be considered a candidate for president. However, he said, he was not yet making an official announcement.
The open records provisions would have exempted certain records from public scrutiny, including records from the Walker administration and draft legislation.
“After substantive discussion over the last day, we have agreed that the provisions relating to any changes in the state's open records law will be removed from the budget in its entirety. We are steadfastly committed to open and accountable government," a joint statement from Walker and GOP lawmakers read, according to the Journal Sentinel. "The intended policy goal of these changes was to provide a reasonable solution to protect constituents' privacy and to encourage a deliberative process between elected officials and their staff in developing policy. It was never intended to inhibit transparent government in any way."
The Wisconsin Legislature is expected to hold a series of votes next week. It will consider the budget, a 20-week abortion ban that makes no exception for rape or incest cases, major tax changes, public funding for a Milwaukee Bucks arena and possible changes to the prevailing wage for public workers, which establishes minimum wages for those workers.
Walker is expected, according to several news outlets including CNN, to declare his presidential candidacy July 13 after the budget is finalized in the Legislature. He is entering as a favorite, and regularly polls in the lead or near the top of the large GOP field currently fighting for the party’s nomination. He is one of several current or former governors in the race.