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Our View: An easy call for attorney general to make
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Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's commitment to openness in government is being put to another test, this time by a group of UW-Milwaukee students.

The editor of the UWM Post newspaper, along with a broadcast journalism professor and two of his students at the school, have officially asked Van Hollen for his opinion on whether Wisconsin's open records and meetings laws apply to UW System student governmental bodies. A Department of Justice spokesman said it's the first time the question has been asked this specifically.

The students make a compelling argument. Their point essentially is that student governmental bodies are part of the state government. State law mandates UW System students perform government functions. Those functions include determining how millions of dollars in public funds are spent each year. That means, they say, that student governmental bodies should be held to the same laws of openness as other governmental entities.

Their argument makes sense. Student governments are public bodies, spending public tax dollars. Any time public tax dollars are involved, open meetings and records laws should apply. There should be no need for student governmental bodies to make decisions regarding public money in secret. Hopefully, the attorney general agrees.

The potential conflict is that federal law protects student confidentiality. But Bob Dreps, a Madison attorney and an expert on Wisconsin open records and meetings laws, says "the key here is these are not education records."

"They may be students ... but this is not part of their education," Dreps said. "This is part of state government."

The attorney general's office should see it no other way.