What is the Wisconsin Public Records Law?
In its most general terms the Wisconsin Public Records Law (Wis. Stat. §§ 19.31-19.39) provides that a requester may inspect and/or receive a copy of any record that is not specifically excepted by some provision of state or federal law. Wisconsin favors broad access to records and the law states that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them. Providing such information is an essential function of a representative government and an integral part of the routine duties of state employees.
Who can make a public records request?
A request may be made by any individual, with limited exceptions.
How can a public records request be submitted?
The easiest and most efficient way to submit a records request is to send it via email to email@example.com. You may also send your request via U.S. Mail to:Public Records Custodian
Office of Compliance
361 Bascom Hall
500 Lincoln Dr.
Madison, WI 53706
Does the request have to be in writing?
No, however for clarity and efficiency in processing sending a request via email is encouraged. No special language or form is required, however the law does state that a request must reasonably describe the record requested. A request is generally not sufficient unless it is reasonably limited as to the subject matter and the period of time covered by the request.
Does the University have to respond within ten days, or within any other specific period of time?
A request for records must be responded to “as soon as practicable and without delay,” but Wisconsin law does not impose a specific deadline for responding to a public records request, and Wisconsin courts have determined that “what constitutes a reasonable time for a response to any specific request depends on the nature of the request, the staff and other resources available to process the request, the extent of the request and other related circumstances.”
What fees might be associated with a public records request?
An authority may charge a requester only for the specific tasks identified by the legislature in the fee provisions of Wis. Stat. § 19.35(3).
- Copy and transcription fees may be charged. Copy fees are limited to the “actual, necessary and direct cost” of reproduction. UW-Madison’s standard reproduction fees are 25 cents per hard copy page, and 15 cents per page for scanned records.
- Costs of a computer run may be imposed on a requester as a copying fee. An authority may also charge a requester for any computer programming expenses required to respond to a request.
- Photography and photographic reproduction fees may be charged if the authority provides a photograph of a record, the form of which does not permit copying, but are limited to the “actual, necessary and direct” costs.
- Location costs. Costs associated with locating records may be charged if they total $50.00 or more. “Locating” a record means to find it by searching, examining, or experimenting. Subsequent review and redaction of the record are separate processes, not included in location of the record, for which a requester may not be charged.
- Mailing and shipping fees may be charged, but are limited to the “actual, necessary and direct cost” of mailing or shipping.
- An authority may require prepayment of any fees if the total amount exceeds $5.00. The authority may refuse to make copies or process the request until payment is received.
What is the difference between the federal Freedom of Information Act and the Wisconsin Public Records Law?
The Freedom of Information Act is a federal statute that applies only to federal records. The Wisconsin Public Records Law applies to records created by or in the custody of a state or local agency, board or other government entity.
The Public Records Law only applies to government records. A records custodian is not required by the Public Records Law to answer questions on a topic of interest to a requester or to create a new record in response to a request.