This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Last year's legislative assault on Utahns' right-to-know laws came out of the dark and caught nearly everybody by surprise. Thus the rapid rise and ugly fall of HB477 was itself a textbook example of what goes wrong when government policy is made in secret.

This year, The Salt Lake Tribune and its many partners in the Utah Media Coalition have launched GRAMA WATCH at utahsright.com/grama. It is an effort to keep a public eye on pending legislation that may have an effect, good or bad, on the openness of Utah government.

The watch list, as of Wednesday, included four bills, only one of which is judged by the coalition to be a threat to the public's right to know. That one, HB304, would remove from public records the full birth dates of those who have registered to vote in Utah.

Because such a change would make it more difficult to verify the proper conduct of elections, and because the threat of identity theft cited by the bill's sponsors has not been shown to be increased by the availability of birth dates, the coalition rates that measure "Lights Out."

A neutral "Pale Light" rating has been given to a companion bill, SB18, to remove from public view the email addresses of voters. That data is not required for verification of election conduct, and it does open up voters to unwanted spam.

The coalition gives the positive "Bright Light" rating to two other bills, SB45 and HB89, which would force more legislative caucuses to be held in public. Such a practice, had it been in effect last year, could have prevented the whole HB477 debacle from happening in the first place.

That bill was a horrible mash of bad ideas based on erroneous premises and faulty logic, with no input from those the measure would affect or those who might be called upon to offer professional advice. For example, lawmakers did not seek the advice of the experts at the State Records Committee because the bill's chief sponsor did not even know there was such a thing.

The ensuing outcry from the press and, more to the point, the public, moved Gov. Gary Herbert to urge the repeal of a bill he had just signed and forced the Legislature to admit it had made a big mistake.

A closed process of amending open-government rules is not just awkward. It is a recipe for disaster. It deprives those who govern of the information they need to make wise decisions and those who are governed of the knowledge they need to evaluate the conduct of their government.

GRAMA WATCH is an effort to prevent that from happening again. Keep watch on it.

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