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New bill would prevent Wisconsin lawmakers from destroying public records

MILWAUKEE -- A Wisconsin state lawmaker is introducing legislation that would prevent legislators from destroying public records.

Other government agencies are required to keep public records for set periods of time. However, an exception state lawmakers wrote themselves decades ago allows them to avoid such rules. As FOX6 discovered in a recent investigation, state lawmakers regularly delete emails, calendars, and other records that show who is influencing them and how they make decisions.

"That means they can destroy records whenever they feel like it as long as nobody has asked for them," Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council President Bill Lueders said. "And we do think that this is becoming more prevalent, and we do think it's abuse, and we would like to see the legislature put an end to it."

State Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) introduced legislation in 2011 that would require state lawmakers to store public records with a third party. The bill never progressed.

Larson is trying again in this new legislative session. He sent out a memo last week looking for co-sponsors. He plans to officially introduce the bill by the end of January. Open records advocates say his success will depend on public support.

"Some people in positions of power would rather not operate with maximum transparency," Lueders said. "And they need to be made to do so against their will, if necessary."