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Now, it's up to you

Published March 7, 2011 11:20 pm

The people must protect their rights
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Legislature brooked no meaningful resistance to the railroaded bill that would gut the state's open records law. Things may have slowed down just a little when the bill got to Gov. Gary Herbert.

To accommodate him, and his concerns about the break-neck process, legislative leaders say they may delay the effective date or fiddle with the content. That might make sense if the bill were not built on a tower of false reasons and blunt contempt for the people.

The press, meanwhile, has had its say. Now it is up to the people. For it is the people of Utah — not the Legislature, not the governor and, in many ways, not even the press — that will be harmed if HB477 becomes law.

The Utah Government Records Access and Management Act is one of the sharpest tools in the kit of investigative reporters as they go about their job of unearthing the who, what, when, where, why and how of government dealings. But we have many other means to our ends.

Average citizens, on the other hand, are much more likely to find themselves misled, stonewalled, frustrated and ignored in any case when a state agency or local unit of government is unwilling to be honest about what it is up to. It is for the people's benefit, not just the media's, that GRAMA exists.

Professional reporters can spend days or weeks following leads, interviewing folks who know, sifting the lies from the truth. Public records are a key part of that probing, so knee-capping GRAMA will, indeed, hurt the press and, by extension, the people who rely on the press for their information.

But if the new law does take effect, and those who seek information are required to jump through numerous legal hoops or pay punitive levels of administrative fees, large media outlets would be much better equipped to do so than would any individual, neighborhood association or public interest group who may wonder what their elected officials are doing, in their name and with their money.

Smaller media organizations, as well as independent websites and bloggers, will also be at a disadvantage.

HB477 may be aimed at the media. But the collateral damage to the public at large stands to be huge. Now is the time for the public to stand up for its own interests.

Capitol Hill rallies protesting HB477 are set for noon today and for 6 p.m. Thursday, the final day of the legislative session. Contact information for Gov. Herbert and members of the Legislature are available at www.utah.gov and le.utah.gov.

It is the people who will be harmed if this bill becomes law. It is the people who must speak up. Now.




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