Friday, March 4, 2011

GRAMA Drama

Several constituents contacted me and asked for some clarification on my "yes" vote on HB 477.  Before I get started, let me present the list of folks that voted on it in the House:

And for good measure, here are those that voted on the bill in the Senate today:


Several days ago our body was approached with the proposal for HB477 (CLICK HERE TO READ A COPY).  The Legislative Research department made the presentation and gave us the run down on what was wrong with current GRAMA rules. The presentation focused on extremely broad and sweeping requests (i.e. like asking for every email for a 9 month period from every legislator on a broad topic) made by the press. 

1.  Time Costs

The workload already this legislative season has totaled over 400 man hours on the eight GRAMA requests we have received thus far.  This provides a major constraint as the legislative attorneys that draft our bills are forced to spend time instead on sequestering laptops, reading e-mails, determining their pertinence to the request, and then putting them in a form that can be delivered to the requestee.  Due to the budget reductions of the past few years, the legislative staff tasked with this has been reduced significantly and there are now major bottlenecks in use of time under current GRAMA rules.

2.  Monetary Expense

The legislative attorneys that handle the requests cost about $50/hour.  Multiply this by the time necessary for any one request and you have the tab for that request paid for courtesy of the Utah taxpayer.

3.  Public Privacy Issues

Because current rules blur the line between personal correspondence and legislative correspondence, any communication that we receive from the public regardless of the content, is available to the individual making a GRAMA request if it's deemed pertinent to the request.

4.  Time Studying the Issue

Although the press has asked for more time to look at the issue, those legislators that have been here a while have attested to the fact that GRAMA has been studied for years now with now.  Despite this length of study, when conversations have been had between the government and press on how to improve the statute, no suggestions have been made...just requests for more time to study the issue. 

I would also recommend that you LISTEN TO THE COMMITTEE HEARING on the issue for more information.

Having little experience myself with this issue, I trust the judgment of our non-partisan legal staff and those who have a long institutional memory and know how this has affected the people's business in a negative way.  However, if there are problems that arise from this bill, I am certainly willing to tackle the issue and amend the statute in our next legislative session.

The crux of this issue is whether the the disclosure of debate and deliberation of decision making among public officials should be put on equal footing with personal conversations and discussion that public officials have with others.  Based on the information that was provided to us, I believe that HB 477 clarifies this distinction and should be a logical solution.  Let's watch and if there are obvious problems that arise when this law takes affect, we can work together to make the proper adjustments if necessary. 

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for the explanation. Too often the news only gives limited details or explanations (because of time constraints), usually from those with extreme biases. I appreciate the efforts you make to keep us informed.

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  2. I disagree with this bill in its entirety.

    The government was never designed to be efficient, it was designed to be transparent with numerous checks and balances.

    As far as I am concerned if anyone wants to read a legislators text messages regarding a certain issue they ought to be able to do it.

    Just like in the private sector the employer (the taxpayers) can read any email, text message, or see what internet sites their employee (the legislator) visited.

    At least it is a service the taxpayers are getting something for their money unlike funding food stamps and free medical care for lazy noncontributing members of society.

    When it comes down to it we already are paying for GRAMA requests to be filled. The media should not be on the hook for paying for information straight from the horses mouth. To put in terms that would be like me having to pay my employer the wages of the engineer I go to with questions to fulfill my responsibilities in my job.

    The bill has it all wrong and I am disappointed that you would co-sponsor the bill yourself when you admittedly do not have enough experience to pass your own judgement and are relying on other legislators input.

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  3. I really appreciate your comments. The press is decidedly against this bill and that always makes me wonder. The press has their own agenda. I for one do not want my e-mails or texts to my legislator read by anyone but the intended party. I'm not government and shouldn't be covered under GRAMA! I agree with your vote!

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  4. I must say that I was disappointed when I saw that you had voted 'yes' on this bill and even co-sponsored the bill. Please let me state as to why.
    You ask for clarity and transparency from everyone that you ask to testify, present, and discuss public issues with. But how can you ask that of others and then say that you, as a PUBLIC OFFICIAL, should be exempt from that?
    To state that it ‘costs a lot’ as one of the reasons is a bit on the ‘weak’ side. As it IS the taxpayer’s money, and I am a taxpayer, it is what I pay to make sure my legislators are doing the job that I ELECTED them to do. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (late Supreme Court Justice) said it best, “Taxes are what we pay for civilization.” I pay my taxes so that I CAN access public records and information on my elected officials and have people gather that information for me and others (and many other reasons!!)!!
    To say that it takes a lot of time and effort, (400 hours, I would like to point out that they get paid for it as it is their job and for an attorney to only charge $50 an hour that is relatively inexpensive) it is also your job to be TRANSPARENT in the legislative process that you were elected to participate in and make every effort to BE transparent and available to your constituents.
    As for correspondence being marked ‘private’ or ‘public,’ any person who is knowingly contacting a PUBLIC official, and elected official knows that the communication is public because the person is a public servant!!
    As for the media taking too much time, are you implying that there is a different "agenda?" I ask that question respectfully and in all honesty. As I see it they are a "linkage institution" to the public and must be informed of the actions of legislators. If they, and the public, do not have access to public records, how can the media act as a linkage institution between the public and legislators??
    One of our first amendment rights is freedom of the press for a reason. Under English rule the media was NOT allowed to publish anything that might ‘damage’ the public perception of government officials. I am NOT inferring that all Utah legislators are in anyway doing anything wrong-but I reserve the right, and the media have the right, to KNOW and have access to the information to see if some are!!
    As for ‘time’ being an issue-the governing process is not supposed to be a ‘fast’ process. Even look to our own Supreme Court, their ‘symbol’ is that of a turtle… slow the process down so you get it right!!
    I must agree with another commenter C Z Sawyer who stated,
    “Just like in the private sector the employer (the taxpayers) can read any email, text message, or see what internet sites their employee (the legislator) visited…. When it comes down to it we already are paying for GRAMA requests to be filled. The media should not be on the hook for paying for information straight from the horses mouth. To put in terms, that would be like me having to pay my employer the wages of the engineer I go to with questions to fulfill my responsibilities in my job.”
    Respectfully (truly), I disagree with your vote and the reasons behind your vote. If there are other reasons that you voted this way-please provide further clarification!!:)

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Welcome! Your comments and thoughts are greatly appreciated. Criticism, insights, questions and queries are always welcome. However, please be civil and composed in your presentation.