Wisconsin Supreme Court rules that information on COVID case may be disclosed | Local government

A split Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the state health department could release data on companies that have had multiple COVID-19 cases, closing the cycle of about a two-year case with public records, opposing business privacy against the right of the public to information.

The court issued a 4-3 ruling – with the court’s three liberal judges, Ann Walsh Bradley, Rebecca Dalet and Jill Karofsky, along with Conservative Judge Brian Hagedorn, a regular vote in the state’s Supreme Court – ruling against Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the largest business organization in the country. WMC filed a lawsuit in October 2020 after the State Department of Health announced plans in the summer to release information on positive cases of COVID-19 in business to comply with requests for public recordings from the media.

“The question is whether the general ban on the law on public records for judicial review prior to the release of decisions to grant access to public archives precludes WMC’s claims,” ​​Dalett told the majority. “We conclude that this is the case and therefore uphold the decision of the Court of Appeal.”

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Conservative judges Annette Ziegler, Patience Rogensak and Rebecca Bradley disagreed, saying Ziegler said the state was “ready to provide personal medical information to the public” and the majority “did not mention the unintended consequences of its actions”. .

“He closes the doors of the courtroom to anyone who may wish to challenge the release of personal medical information,” Ziegler wrote. “It’s a gross mistake.”

Bill Luders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said the Supreme Court ruling upheld the public’s right to know information about the pandemic collected by a public health agency. He also dismissed Ziegler’s comments, noting that “all that is disclosed are the names of the companies and the number of confirmed infections collected as part of the state’s response to the public health crisis.”

“Trying to scare people into believing that their most personal medical information is now open to everyone seems irresponsible,” Luders said in a statement.

The WMC, along with the Muskego Chamber of Commerce and the New Berlin Bureau of Commerce and Visitors, filed a lawsuit in Waukesha County District Court to block the issuance of the records after DHS announced plans to publish the names of more than 1,000 companies. with more than 25 employees with at least two workers who tested positive for COVID-19.

The Wisconsin companies said that providing the information to the Journal Sentinel and other media that requested the information, including the Wisconsin State Journal, would have severe consequences for companies already struggling with the pandemic.

The business groups also claim that the information they want to block is derived from the results of diagnostic tests and contact tracking records, and that this information constitutes patient care files that must be kept confidential.

A Waukesha County judge issued a number of restraining orders in 2020, preventing the state health department from releasing the information. The Fourth District Court of Appeals eventually overturned the lower court’s decision last April, which led to the WMC’s appeal to the state’s Supreme Court.

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