Wisconsin Senate Bill 55—which might be taken up by the Senate this week—would go a long way toward allowing local governments to operate out of the public eye, and that is not a good thing.
At a time when public mistrust of the government is probably at an all-time high, SB 55 would only add to that mistrust while at the same time hurting a specific segment of businesses.
SB 55 would allow local units of government to no longer publish their meeting proceedings in their local official newspapers. This is something legislators have tried to do before, been fought back, and now they are at it again.
They do it under the guise of trying to save a little bit of money for local governments while also pointing out that technology has changed the information world. Both those things are true, but as reasons they pale in comparison to the damage SB 55 would do to open government.
The Tri-County News continues to be distributed to approximately 4,000 homes weekly reaching 10,000 people. Wisconsinites still look to their local newspapers as the best source for government information. The public should not be expected to seek out information on a government website. Information should be delivered to them by the government.
The public notice process exists to provide independent third-party oversight of government. Government should never be permitted to report on itself. The publication of public notices is vital to holding elected officials accountable. The fact is that the newspapers of Wisconsin already provide one electronic searchable location for access to all public notices via Wisconsinpublicnotices.org. The newspaper industry provides the public notice website at no cost to government and as a public service to the citizens of Wisconsin.
While it may sound self-serving, SB 55 would put some newspapers out of business. Newspapers make their money off other businesses advertising with them, and during the pandemic that has obviously been a struggle. Considering SB 55 while the pandemic continues is simply piling on the newspaper industry and will be the death blow for some printed newspapers—maybe even this one. Contact local legislators to comment on this.