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:
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.