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Wisconsin’s newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations advocate on behalf of the public for openness in government and would like to thank the lawmakers involved in passage of a bill regarding the use of law enforcement body cameras. The bill passed both houses on a voice vote and was signed into law Feb. 28 by Governor Tony Evers.

A Legislative Study Committee, led by Chair Sen. Patrick Testin and Vice-Chair Rep. Chris Taylor, overcame significant differences to create a bill that won the support of law enforcement, the media, criminal justice attorneys, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Wisconsin’s newspapers and broadcasters supported passage of the bill this session so that the effort and remarkable outcome of the committee’s work could be realized.

In the Assembly, Rep. John Spiros, who also sat on the Study Committee, introduced the bill and Chair of the Assembly Committee on State Affairs, Rep. Rob Swearingen, secured a public hearing and executive session on the bill. Sen. Van Wanggaard held a public hearing and executive session in the State Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety. Their support and efforts were critical in getting the legislation to a vote this session.

The law requires any law enforcement agency using body cameras to establish a policy on how the cameras will be used, sets minimum limits on how long video will be stored, establishes circumstances under which it should be kept, and builds on Wisconsin’s robust open records laws to take into account the privacy of victims and witnesses who appear in the videos. The law uses the balancing test to determine if video should be released, and asks records custodians to take into consideration the expectation privacy for anyone who appears in the video and the treatment of victims and minors. The bill also directs records custodians to use redaction where necessary to allow for a video to be released.

As law, this legislation will give law enforcement the guidance it seeks regarding the use of body cameras, give the public the transparency it expects, and demonstrate the ability of parties to come together on an important issue through the Legislative Study Committee process.

Thank you, to Sen. Testin, Sen. Wanggaard, Rep. Taylor, Rep. Spiros, and Rep. Swearingen for their support.

— Beth Bennett, executive director, Wisconsin Newspaper Association and Michelle Vetterkind, CAE president/CEO, Wisconsin Broadcasters Association