Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Utah Legislature to Utah Citizens: Butt Out of the Government's "Private" Business

The Utah legislature moves one step further along its inexorable path toward keeping the public's nose out of the government's "private" business

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the Utah legislature has moved one step further along its inexorable path toward keeping the public's nose out of the government's "private" business, with the passage in the Senate of Rep. Aagard's HB 122. Key legislative players are reportedly patting themselves on the back for rejecting Governor Huntsman's eleventh hour proposal to the remove the existing "tie-breaking" intent language of Utah Code Section 63G-2-102 (e), which favors public access when countervailing citizen disclosure and government "privacy" interests are of equal weight.

In our view, the last minute floating of this latter issue was probably tactical. By rejecting the Governor's proposal, the proponents of HB 122 will be able to mendaciously argue that the contraction of the public's right to obtain public records is lots better than it might have been.

Rep. Aagard's bill, which was amended in the Senate, is now headed back to the House for the final slam dunk. For the benefit of those readers who may feel inclined to make a last ditch effort to stop the progress of this bill, we once again provide the House of Representatives contact link:
House contact information
Although we've complained incessantly about the potential perils of expanding government secrecy to documents purportedly prepared "in anticipation of litigation," nobody in the legislature seems to be listening. What the hell. There's no harm in giving it one last last shot, by again contacting your House Representatives to voice your disapproval of this bill, we say.

Incidentally, this morning's SL Trib story also reports on another GRAMA revision bill, (which unfortunately came in under our radar screen,) i.e., Rep. Greg Hughes's HB362, which passed the House on Monday 71-2. "The measure would require that individuals who make more than 12 government records request in a year's time must pay full costs for any additional requests," according to this morning's SL Trib story. Whether this bill would adversely effect the citizen watchdog efforts of local GRAMA experts like Dan S. or Bill C. we don't know. Perhaps the two of them will be able to chime in with their own comments about this.

Reader comments are invited, as always.

9 comments:

mark johnson said...

Here is the latest,
I read the one and only Mark Decaira is going before the senate today in room 445 in the state capitol building. Now is the time to stand up and come to speak and have him account, to the public about him doing nothing in prosecuting the mayor on all the corruption that he has committed. So will any be with me to watch this happen?

John the cheater Patterson said...

I'll be on the front row!

dan s. said...

Rudi,

Thanks for the invitation to chime in.

As it currently stands, HB 122 would be bad for citizens but not so bad for the big newspapers who can hire media lawyers like Jeff Hunt to represent them. The Utah Media Coalition agreed to the current compromise because when a case goes to court, their lawyers will be able to argue for a narrow interpretation of "anticipated litigation" and will be able to round up the evidence to meet their burden of proof for disclosure. Ordinary citizens, however, will rarely have the resources to go to court or to hire first-rate media lawyers.

Nevertheless, I see little point in continuing to fight this bill without the Utah Media Coalition's help.

HB 362 is a clumsy attempt to solve a rare but genuine problem. There are people who use GRAMA requests either to intentionally harass the government, or to pursue their personal psychotic fetishes. The most famous example is a woman who is convinced that she is the daughter of L. Ron Hubbard and granddaughter of Dwight D. Eisenhower, and who uses repeated GRAMA and FOIA requests to try to uncover evidence of this.

But HB 362 won't really solve problems like this, because such a person could still submit a GRAMA request every month to any given government agency before having to pay extra fees. And the law could be abused by the government to discourage legitimate GRAMA requests, because it doesn't specify what constitutes a separate request (what about asking for 12 different records in a single letter?), and the exception for the media (i.e., someone preparing an article for broadcast to the public) is overly vague.

natalie said...

In a group that is so quick to point out all legislator and lobbyist conflicts of interest, why doesn't anyone recognize the media's conflict on this issue? Maybe the media has a vested interest in this, and we're not getting the whole story...

dan s. said...

natalie,

When it comes to open records, the media's interest is usually the same as the public's interest. But there are some fine distinctions, as I tried to point out above. On the whole, the media played a positive role here, forcing the Legislature to improve the bill before passing it.

dan s. said...

On further consideration, I think the important distinction here is not between the media and ordinary citizens, but between media lawyers and everyone else. The current compromise on HB 122 serves the lawyers' interests because they'll be more needed than ever. It doesn't serve the interests of people who would rather not have to hire a lawyer.

That said, I hasten to point out that media lawyers like Jeff Hunt have done us all a tremendous service in litigating important GRAMA cases and getting the Utah Supreme Court to set good precedents.

(Disclaimer: Some of my best friends are lawyers.)

Natasha said...

If this experience does not show clearly that we need a change in politics in Northern Utah, I don't know what will. The Republicans are not the party that the citizens can rely on. Get out and get busy towards a major change.

These Republican good old boys and girls have had their way without challenge for so many years, they will never change.

Jack said...

"The Republicans are not the party that the citizens can rely on."

I hate to break it to ya Natasha, but the political situation in Utah is hopeless for citizens who'd like to see Utah move into the 21st century, because Utah politics are run from the wardhouses = the Utah GOP.

Until you work hard enough to get a majority of non ward members to attend their neighborhood caucus meetings, our government will continue to be overweighted by delegates whose primary loyalty is to Tom Monson.

Between the "gentiles and jacks like me," we already outnumber these Mormon cretins.

The problem is that the mo-mos are much better organized.

Bill C. said...

What's truely sad is, our local administration tries it's hardest to get out of following the current statutes, by weakening the statutes our job becomes seemingly impossible. But we will endeavor to persevere. If the citizens suffer unduly under this new statute, we can always force a legislative re-evaluation.

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