- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin’s high school sports association would have to abide by the state’s open records and meetings laws under a bill the Assembly approved early Wednesday morning.

The bill’s author, Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, has argued more transparency likely would help the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association avoid embarrassing episodes like the one it endured last month. The organization drew widespread ridicule over an email it sent to school administrators telling them to crack down on fan taunts and cheers such as “air ball” and “scoreboard.”

A northern Wisconsin high school basketball player was suspended for making a profane tweet about the policy, pushing the story into the national headlines. Sports media outlets, including Sports Illustrated, as well as pundits and fans began mocking the WIAA’s policy, calling it coddling and overprotective.

The WIAA has had guidelines for years calling for spectators to engage in only positive cheers. Still, Nygren contends that more insight and public input into the organization’s policy-making might have helped avoid the entire situation.

WIAA officials have argued the organization is a private association that receives no public funding and therefore shouldn’t have to follow open meetings and records laws.

The Assembly took up the bill around 1 a.m. Wednesday after spending hours passing scores of other proposals. Legislators are rushing their bills to votes before the chamber wraps up its work for the two-year legislative session on Thursday.

The Assembly amended the bill to exclude WIAA referee records from the open records law. A short debate then ensued after Rep. Andy Jorgensen of Milton questioned whether lawmakers would go after Lions clubs and veterans groups next.

“I don’t want to come after groups that are not funded by taxpayer dollars,” he said.

Other Democrats tried to amend the bill to extend the open records and meetings law to the state’s voucher school program, which subsidizes private school tuition with state dollars. They also pointed out that Nygren was among the members of the Legislature’s budget committee that tried to gut the open records and meetings law last summer. Withering criticism forced lawmakers to backtrack.

Nygren noted the changes were only a proposal and said transparency for all forms of government is a good thing. He has argued the WIAA is a quasi-governmental organization since school boards delegate the power to regulate sporting events to the association and the events are held in or at school facilities built and maintained by tax dollars.

Republicans shot down the voucher amendment, and the chamber ultimately approved the bill on a 61-34 vote. The proposal goes next to the state Senate.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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