Sunshine Week, which was observed last week, is a national effort by journalists to shine some light on the importance of open government and freedom of information. Despite this effort we've seen increasing attempts at all levels of government from the White House down to town halls to limit citizen access to what should be public information. But a ray of hope appeared last week in the form of a ruling by St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Howard Cameron in a case with statewide implications. In 1994 Congress enacted the Drivers Privacy Protection Act, which was designed to prohibit states from selling information contained in Department of Motor Vehicle records. Several years later a federal court ruled that the Village of Palatine, Ill., violated that law when an officer placed a parking citation containing information taken from DMV records on the windshield of a car illegally parked. The threat of a class action suit for damages then prompted an opinion from a Wisconsin League of Municipalities lawyer advising local law enforcement to black out information such as name, age and address from accident and incident reports. This came despite a Wisconsin attorney general opinion that this would be a misapplication of the federal law and would violate Wisconsin's open records law. Police and sheriff departments across the state, including local departments, soon began going through the time and expense of blackening out that information from reports. Judge Cameron's ruling Thursday in a lawsuit brought by the New Richmond newspaper against that city's Police Department essentially agreed with the attorney general opinion, giving hope that this information will soon be returned to the public domain.
[The editorials that appear weekly in this space are the views of the newspaper as determined by The Chronotype's editorial board. All editorials are written by one or more members of the board, which consists of Warren Dorrance, Sam Finazzo, Ryan Urban and Eileen Nimm.]