MADISON — Wisconsin’s high school athletics association would be subject to the state’s open records and open meetings laws under a bill passed early Wednesday morning by the state Assembly.
Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, introduced the proposal after the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association drew national scrutiny for a sportsmanship memo it sent to athletic directors.
“I believe this is common sense,” Nygren said Tuesday. “I believe more transparency dealing with WIAA will help them be better at their job.”
The WIAA memo was meant to remind administrators about guidelines to follow to maintain a positive environment at high school sporting events. Examples of when officials ought to intervene included students chanting things like “air ball,” “fundamentals” and “you can’t do that.”
The guidelines weren’t new, but many interpreted them as a crackdown. They sparked a national debate after a Hilbert High School basketball player was suspended for five games after tweeting, “EAT S—- WIAA” in response to the memo.
A similar bill was introduced by Democratic former Rep. Tony Staskunas in 2009, but it failed to pass.
Nygren has said the WIAA receives revenue generated by taxpayers and is therefore a quasi-governmental agency and should be subjected to measures to enforce transparency.
But WIAA executive director Dave Anderson has said the organization receives “zero” public funding and is being singled out because of the memo. He has argued that if the bill would become law, many organizations similar to the WIAA would not be open to the same public scrutiny.
An amendment also passed Tuesday would clarify that referees working at school sporting events are independent contractors and would not be subject to the open records laws, and that records concerning individual students would not be subject to the right of inspection or copying under those laws.
Some Democrats voted against the bill, arguing it doesn’t make sense to subject a quasi-governmental agency to those laws when private voucher schools are not.
But Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, said the bill would go a long way toward providing needed accountability for the WIAA.
“This is a good bill. I think that transparency is perhaps the first step that’s needed for the WIAA,” Mason said.
The bill hasn’t yet been given a hearing in the Senate.