Definition of Public Record

Wisconsin defines record as any document, regardless of physical form, that “has been created or is being kept by” an agency. 1

Exemptions to Public Records

The eight general exemptions deal with law enforcement records closed by federal law, identities of law enforcement informants, trade secrets as defined by the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, financially identifying information, and identity of applicants for government positions who request confidentiality, although this is waived if they become one of the final candidates. More on Wisconsin exemptions can be found in the resource section. 2

Who Can Make The Request?

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. 3

Response Timeframe

Timeframe not specified. 4

Information on Fees

The language in the law mandates fees be kept to “actual, necessary and direct costs of reproduction.” Wis. Stat. § 19.35(3)(a); Osborn, 2002 WI 83 ¶46, 254 Wis. 2d at 303-04, 647 N.W.2d at 176. This includes cases where contractors are brought in to do the work by the requested agency. On August 8, 2018, the Wisconsin Attorney General issued an advisory, in which it reiterated “An authority may not charge for the time it takes to redact records, and an authority may not make a profit on its response to a public records request.” It also noted that, though municipalities are free to set their own copy charges, there is an expectation that these will only cover the necessary costs, highlighting that their own copies costs amounted to $0.0135 for a black-and-white copy (including paper) and $0.0632 for a color copy. 5

Enforcement Mechanisms

If a records custodian “arbitrarily or capriciously” denies or delays a request, or charges exorbitant and unnecessary fees, a court may fine them up to $1,000. 6

Attorney Fees

Yes, you can win them. 7

Do You Want to Make a Public Records Request?

The public records process begins with a public records request. Our guide outlines best practices for drafting well-defined requests for public information.

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Questions? Contact the Goldwater Institute.

If you have any questions regarding this guide or your rights to public information, please contact the Goldwater Institute at info@goldwaterinstitute.org to determine if the Institute can help you access information necessary to hold your government accountable.

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