GOP tries to persuade panel to pass lottery privacy bill

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican legislators worked Wednesday to persuade their colleagues to support a bill that would keep lottery winners’ names secret, saying the measure would protect winners from harassment.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos introduced the bill in April on the same day that 24-year-old Manuel Franco of West Allis came forward to claim a $768 million Powerball prize. Franco said during a news conference that he started feeling paranoid as soon as he realized he had won but he didn’t offer any specific incidents that made him feel that way.

The Assembly Committee on State Affairs had a public hearing on the bill Wednesday afternoon. Vos did not appear in person but submitted written remarks saying Franco was forced to expose his identity, which was publicized across the country via the news conference.

Vos said the attention has led to “months of harassment that have forced the now multimillionaire to go ‘off the grid.'” The remarks didn’t offer any examples of harassment Franco has endured. Vos’ spokeswoman, Kit Beyer, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking anecdotes.

Current Wisconsin law doesn’t allow lottery winners to remain anonymous. Vos’ bill would prohibit retailers who sell winning tickets, state lottery officials and the state Department of Revenue from releasing winners’ names without the winners’ consent. The measure also would exempt any written records of winners’ names from Wisconsin’s open records law.

At least four states — Delaware, Kansas, North Dakota and Ohio — offer unconditional anonymity for lottery winners, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Franco’s attorney, Andrew Stoltmann, submitted remarks to the committee saying that it’s time Wisconsin “gets out of the Stone Age when it comes to privacy of lottery winners.”

“By publishing their names the state of Wisconsin makes them a target for both legitimate and illegitimate financial professionals across the world,” Stoltmann wrote.

His remarks didn’t mention any examples of harassment directed at Franco, either. He said in a brief telephone interview following the hearing that every one of the 10 lottery winners he has represented, including Franco, has been harassed. He declined to offer examples of incidents, however.

State Lottery Director Cindy Polzin told the committee that Franco spent Mothers’ Day at a Chicago Target store handing out $200 gift certificates