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Republicans sue Tony Evers over denial of open records request
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Republicans sue Tony Evers over denial of open records request

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A top Republican official on Tuesday sued Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to compel his office to turn over records on farmer mental health programs his office had denied in full.

The lawsuit from Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, filed in Dane County Circuit Court, represents the latest instance in which Evers has faced pressure to be more transparent.

Just last week, he found himself under fire for denying a Fox 6 reporter’s request for a day’s worth of emails.

In Tuesday’s case, Nygren, who is co-chairman of the Legislature’s influential budget committee, is challenging a full denial by Evers’ office of a request he made in August for records related to a farmer mental health program run by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

“Governor Evers and his staff are blatantly hiding and denying access to public documents,” Nygren said in a statement. “Governor Evers is not above the law. These brazen attempts to hide public documents is shameful and begs to question what Governor Evers and his staff are hiding.”

An Evers spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request seeking comment.

Nygren’s request for information, filed with both DATCP and Evers’ office, was meant to assist the budget committee in its decision whether to release $100,000 in annual spending placed in the budget to address farmer mental health assistance.

The funding for farmer mental health prompted a dispute between Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and then-DATCP Secretary Brad Pfaff that ended with Pfaff’s ouster.

Nygren had asked for communications related to farmer mental health, mental health vouchers, DATCP’s request for the funds, and Republican leaders between July 2 and Aug. 2.

While DATCP fulfilled the request, Evers’ office didn’t, arguing in late August it was “overly broad” and “not a reasonably limited request,” arguing it would require reviewing every office employee’s records.

Evers’ office made a similar argument in denying the Fox 6 reporter’s records request, which after being narrowed down, asked for a day’s worth of emails from Evers.

Nygren previously came under fire in 2015 when he and other top Republicans defended their party’s attempt to dramatically alter the state’s open records law.

Those changes, which were ultimately scrapped, would have barred from public disclosure communications and records made by lawmakers and given them authority to keep staff communications private.

The changes would also have blocked access to files kept by the nonpartisan lawyers who write legislation; and kept private “communications and other materials, including opinions, analyses, briefings, background information, recommendations, suggestions, drafts, correspondence about drafts, and notes, created or prepared in the process of reaching a decision concerning a policy or course of action or in the process of drafting a document or formulating an official communication.”

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