Monday, March 7, 2011

Citizens work to repeal HB477


March 4, 2011 went down as a day of infamy in Utah at the Capitol with the passing of HB 477. It became known as the day our GRAMA died. It became the day public records and transparency in a state with one of the best public records laws in the United States is now slated (pending the signature of Governor Herbert) to become one of the worst in the nation and even rival limited freedom of information laws in Mexico.
These are the folks that passed it. Keep them in mind next time you vote. Are they truly representing you and open transparency in government?
In the House:
In the Senate:
So who accesses these records and why is this such a big deal?
First, listen to regular citizens who commented during a rules committee hearing on Friday about it.
I did a live video stream of the proceedings from my phone.
According to a story in the Salt Lake Tribune, the majority of Freedom of Information requests made nationally were done by commercial businesses and private citizens. The news media comes in at only 6 percent, according to a 2006 report from the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government.
Who does this bill effect? The people. However it doesn't reflect the what the people want. A Dan Jones poll indicated more than 90 percent of Utahns disagreed with the passing of the bill. So why was it passed?
"It is a bill created by the legislature, for the legislature, and against the people," to quote my mother who said it so aptly.
HB477 bill sponsor Rep. John Dougall (photo above courtesy of 
See the interviews of reporters asking him why the rush in the bill. Does he have something to hide?
FOX13 interview
ABC4 interview
Legislators along with Dougall gutted a law made in 1992, to allow the public rights and access to public records. Basically anything created by the government is a public record, unless deemed to be private.
An amendment to the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA)
Legislators voted in the House and the Senate to conceal many public records including text messages, IM, voicemails, and some e-mails. They also made the legislative branch of government exempt from disclosing any of the written conversations they have with their constituents. This is a tough blow to Utah open records laws in the state. However, they didn't stop there. On top of making these new restrictions, they added "overhead and administrative" fees that could be added to any government record request. Essentially removing any type of financial cap on how much an agency could charge to have someone obtain a public record.
So for example, if you wanted to request a regular government record like a birth, divorce, death certificate, land use or water rights history those fees could now go from nothing to an inflated cost just to get a copy.
When I was a student reporter working at The Signpost at Weber State University, I did an investigation on felons working in higher education. Under HB477 this sort of story would have no chance of being accomplished at a collegiate level, because of new charges in fees.
Here is a well thought out editorial by the managing editor of the Valley Journals and also with the Utah Foundation for Open Government. click here:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the perspective. I worked for the Signpost as well and was involved in a study of how GRAMA was being executed by various Utah agencies. This is a disturbing development, one of the most ridiculous things the Utah legislature has tried to do of late.