In Wisconsin

Open Records – FAQ

What is a “record”?

A record is any material on which written, drawn, printed, spoken, visual or electromagnetic information is recorded or preserved, regardless of physical form or characteristics, which has been created or is being kept by an authority in connection with official purpose or function of the agency. A record includes handwritten, typed or printed documents; maps and charts; photographs, films and tape recordings; computer tapes and printouts, CDs and optical discs; and electronic records and communications.

What is not subject to Wisconsin’s Open Records Law?

There are numerous federal and state laws that exempt particular records from disclosure. Common exemptions include:

  • Drafts, notes, preliminary documents and similar materials
  • Purely personal property with no relation to the office
  • Material with access limited due to copyright, patent or bequest
  • Trade secrets
  • Social security numbers
  • Plans or specifications for state buildings
  • Information obtained for law enforcement purposes, when required by federal law or regulation as a condition to receipt of state aids
  • Computer programs (but the material input and the material produced as the product of a computer program is subject to the right of inspection and copying)
  • Certain employee information
  • Identities of certain applicants for public positions
  • Identifies of law enforcement informants
  • Attorney-client privilege
  • Published material available for sale or at the library

For more information on exemptions, see DOJ Compliance Guide.

Who can make an open records request?

Generally, any person may make an open records request. Wisconsin statutes limit access when the requestor is incarcerated or mentally committed to records that contain specific references to the requestor or his or her minor children. See DOJ Compliance Guide.

Do I have to identify myself when making the request?

No. Generally the requestor need not identify himself or herself; however, substantive statutes, such as those concerning student records and health records, restrict record access to certain persons. See Wis. Stat. § 19.35(1)(i).

Am I required to state the reason for my request?

No. A requester is not required to state the purpose of the request.

Can I inspect records?

Yes. Upon request, WEDC will make the requested records available to you to inspect.

Can I request copies of records?

Yes. WEDC will provide copies of open records at the cost of 0.25/page. Where the request involves copying of a large volume of records, you may request copies be made by a bonded copying service in which case, if approved by WEDC, the requestor would pay the rate charged by the service. See the fee schedule below.

How long until I receive the requested records?

By law, open records must be provided “as soon as practicable and without delay.” Wis. Stat. §19.35(4)(a). A reasonable time for response to any specific request depends on the nature of the request, the staff and other resources available to the authority to process the request, the extent of the request, and related considerations. Although the public records law does not require response within any specific time, average record requests are generally available within ten working days. See DOJ Compliance Guide.

Can I get electronic records?

Electronic records are subject to the open records law. Computer programs are not subject to the open records law, but records produced as the product of a computer program are subject to inspection and copying. A person can not require WEDC to create a new record by extracting and compiling information from existing records in a new format. When information is stored in a database, a person can “within reasonable limits” request a data run to obtain the requested information. See DOJ Compliance Guide.

What is the cost of requesting records?

WEDC charges the actual, necessary and direct costs for copies of records, which are established in COMM 2.02 as follows:

  • Location costs. When the cost of locating a record exceed $50.00, the actual, necessary and direct cost of locating the record will be charged. See Wis. Stat. § 19.35(3)
  • Copying costs. $0.25 per page for the copying of customary and ordinary 8½ by 11 hard copy records. The requestor may request the copying of a large volume of records on an expedited basis by a bonded copying service in which case, if approved by WEDC, the requestor would pay the rate charged by the service.
  • IT costs. WEDC charges $95.00 per hour for the production of a computer record which is not in a readily comprehensible form to obtain the information from the computer database and assemble and reduce such information to written form on paper.
  • Mailing costs. The actual, necessary and direct cost of mailing or shipping of copies of records shall be paid by the requestor.

WEDC may, upon request, waive the fee in whole or in part.

If you have questions about this page, contact Jennifer Jin at 608.210.6705.