Tuesday, February 24, 2009

LAST MINUTE call to contact your State Senator about HB 122, which abuses limitations on open record requests

(I posted much of this in a comment on Utah Moms Care a couple of days ago.)
Another bill that I find extremely worrying is HB 122, restricting the ability of citizens and media to access government documents through the GRAMA (Government Records Access and Management Act) law. Appeals are made harder and any document that could "potentially" be needed in litigation, which seems like basically anything to me, could be legally withheld from the public. Attorney General Shurtleff claims that investigations are being compromised, but I cannot find anywhere that they have provided an example of that. This Weber County Forum post talks about an article in the Ogden Standard Examiner which gives a good concrete example of a well-publicized police shooting case last year in which the truth would likely not be known if HB 122 had been in place.

This issue has also been discussed by the Tribune’s unknown gem of a blog called The Vault, which sometimes varies in posting frequency, but is at least more consistent than I am. The Vault deals completely with open government, largely through newspaper reporters’ attempts to obtain documents, but also highlighting laws or events that show the constant struggle to keep government open and accountable. HB 122 does not address any proven deficiency of the current process. The proponents of the bill have given inconsistent reasons for supporting the changes, and it appears to add hurdles strictly in order to stop the public from “second guessing” through a limited appeals process the government’s decision to keep documents secret. BYU journalism professor, Joel Cambell, detailed many of these things in an email which the vault partially posted. He also makes the point that those testifying in committee could not name one specific case where the current GRAMA law’s criteria have been harmful to a criminal case or civil lawsuit. And as I said, making any document off limits that could “potentially” be involved in litigation basically opens the door for the government to hide anything it wants.

The proponents have also mentioned the occasional burden on government employees to copy and share records, but inconveniencing someone is not more important than transparent government in my opinion.

These 7 senators are the members of the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee, which meets TODAY at 8:00 am:

Sen. Peter C. Knudson, Chair
Sen. Gregory S. Bell
Sen. Jon J. Greiner
Sen. Scott K. Jenkins
Sen. Daniel R. Liljenquist
Sen. Scott D. McCoy
Sen. Luz Robles

I know it is the last minute, but please email them this morning (Here’s contact information for every State Senator) and let them know your opposition to rolling back the protections to the public extended by GRAMA. The debate on HB 122 is scheduled last (so presumably closer to 10:00 am) and you can still make a difference in an important bill that will slide under the radar unless many of us make it an issue with our legislators. I read that one legislator emailed a constituent back about a bill as he was actually participating in the committee discussion of the bill.


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