Thursday, February 19, 2009

House of Representatives Tightens GRAMA Restrictions

Here we go again with another citizen call to action

There's bad news for advocates of open government this morning, with this report in the Standard-Examiner, that Rep. Doug Aagard's House Bill 122, which will seriously tighten GRAMA request restrictions, has passed in the Utah House, and is now set to move on to the Senate. The article is short, so we'll incorporate it in full:
SALT LAKE CITY — The House has passed a measure that would make it harder to obtain certain documents through the Government Records and Management Access process.
Under current law, strategic government documents can be protected from public disclosure only if prepared for pending litigation.
House Bill 122, sponsored by Rep. Douglas Aagard, R-Kaysville, would also allow strategic documents to be protected if prepared in anticipation of litigation.
Also, court appeals to obtain information would have to demonstrate “clear and convincing evidence” that the public interest outweighs the interest favoring restriction of documents.
Aagard said that’s higher than the current standard.
The House passed the bill on a 43-27 vote Wednesday. It now goes to the Senate for further debate. [Emphasis added]
The Deseret News carries a brief heads-up on the topic this morning too.

So in addition to the objections to the bill's vague language, which we raised here on Weber County Forum last week, Rep. Aagard has now compounded the problem by incorporating new (amended) provisions, which would increase the burden of proof on appeal for GRAMA applicants initially denied production of documents and records on the basis of "anticipated of litigation." Whereas the current standard is "preponderance of evidence," this new bill would substitute the more burdensome standard of "clear and convincing evidence."

For those readers who'd like to bone up a little bit more on the subject, we provide a couple of helpful audio and video (RealPlayer) links below:
House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee - Video - 2/9/09
House Floor Debate - Audio - 2/18/09
For those readers who are willing to listen in, it will become immediately clear that none of the bill's proponents have even the slightest clue about what they're doing with this bill. In his ham-handed attempt to carve out special (and possibly reasonable) exceptions for law enforcement related records and documents, Representative Aagard has drafted sloppy and over-broad legislation which will, as a practical matter, make the obtaining of public documents and records even more expensive and difficult at best, and impossible at worst.

And for those readers willing to simply take our word that this bill needs to have a stake driven through its heart, Don't forget to contact your state senators RIGHT NOW.

Believe us. They love to hear from their concerned constituents.

Thoughtful reader comments are invited, as always.


Dorothy Littrell said...

Thanks for the e-mail addresses of Senators.

It is already so expensive and time consuming for the average Utah citizen to obtain information from government in Utah that the new bill will completely discourage us all from even making the attempt.

RudiZink said...

Exactly right, Dorothy. And if you listen to at least the first few minutes of the house committee audio, you'll no doubt quickly come to the conclusion that the main reason these government bureaucrats are pushing this tightening of GRAMA rules seems to be because they consider it a hassle.

I listened to both audios early this morning, too. Nowhere within almost two hours of the audio does any proponent of this bill list any specific reason why this legislation needs to be passed, other than through vague references to "attorney-client privilage, and "attorney work product," and unexplained "Supreme Court Decisions."

This bill is an insult to the citizens of Utah.

Everyone should listen to the tape of these clowns just once.

Call it a civics lesson.

Curmudgeon said...

Since the clear purpose of this GRAMA-gutting bill is to restrict reporting on what Utah officials [municipal, county and state] are up to, perhaps this isn't too far off-topic. There is an article in Editor and Publisher offering advice to newspapers, reporters, and editors regarding the reporting of in particular statistical-based economics stories. As I read it, Ogden kept coming to mind. Here's some of the advice:

Be more skeptical of sources. “You have to play lawyer, ask what is this person’s motivation for saying what they’re saying.”

Amen to that. Here's more.

Question data, constantly. Last March, for example, The Wall Street Journal ran a story saying the vast inventory of foreclosed homes was starting to bring people back into the housing market, and cited figures from the National Association of Realtors showing a jump in sales in February of 2.9% from the month before. But he points out that in every year home sales are lowest in January, so changes from January to February are measuring seasonal differences, not actual improvements in house sales. The tendency to overemphasize the most recent data point in a monthly series is called the “recency” effect. “It is a foolish way to ignore the trend and give greater emphasis to today,” he notes.

The reporting of crime statistics in Ogden [particularly during election campaigns] came quickly to mind.

And one more:

Give good context. The struggle to control the narrative of how the housing crisis and ensuing financial meltdown occurred is in full swing, exemplified by Karl Rove’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in January that fingered Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as among “the principal culprits of the housing crisis.” But he and others point out that the two government-sponsored enterprises, though they became too large and overleveraged, had nothing to do with the explosion of high-risk lending that took place between 2002 and 2007.

How many times does a story appear locally that focuses only on the short term and immediate and does not fit whatever is being reported into a broader context that would give it substantially more value for readers?

Be skeptical [particularly of official sources], question data, and keep context constantly in mind. If that isn't J-school 101, it should be.

Dan S. said...

I'd just like to point out that several of our local legislators, including Hansen, Froerer, and Wallis, voted against HB 122. We owe them all a big Thank You for their votes.

Ryan Wilcox was among those who voted for the bill, so perhaps some in his district should call him to express their disappointment.

The complete list of who voted each way is here.

Although the vote in committee was along party lines with Republicans for the bill and Democrats against, that was not true on the floor where representatives crossed over in both directions.

Sister Nancy said...

Excuse me, but is it mere coincidence that Rep Ryan Wilcox bears an uncanny likeness to David Berkowitz, SON OF SAM?

Be VERY CAREFUL, my LDS friends.

Satan is very clever at Tranforming, and foiling us with his mortal incarnations of evil. But if we lead pure lives, we can see through Satan's proxies, like the evil Ryan Wilcox, for instance.

democrat said...

"Exactly right, And if you listen to at least the first few minutes of the house committee audio, you'll no doubt quickly come to the conclusion that the main reason these government bureaucrats are pushing this tightening of GRAMA rules seems to be because they consider it a hassle"

These are not "government bureacrats" they are REPUBLICANS.

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