This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
In a staggering display of contempt for both the rights of Utah citizens and their own deliberative duties, members of the Legislature are in the process of railroading through a bill that would gut the spirit and the letter of the state's 20-year-old open records act.
There may still be time to stop this assault on the right of all Utahns to remain informed on what their state and local governments are doing, in their name and with their money. There certainly has not been time for the public, or even most members of the Legislature, to consider the need, if any, for changes that threaten to make so much of what goes on in the halls of power inaccessible to the people.
A House committee hearing Wednesday was the first opportunity most people had to view and react to 1,814 lines of proposed legislation. Neither the press nor the public had any inkling that such a detailed piece of legislation was in the works until it was sprung upon, and quickly approved by, one committee, with barely a week remaining in this session.
The bill passed the House, 61-12, only one day later. It now moves to the Senate, where calmer heads may yet prevail.
Legislation this important and this detailed does not take shape overnight, or in a vacuum. It is logical to assume that House leadership, up to and including Speaker Becky Lockhart, has greased the skids for this legislative sneak attack.
The Utah Government Records Access and Management Act, known to journalists, concerned citizens and its many other friends as GRAMA, admirably declares that, "It is the intent of the Legislature to: promote the public's right of easy and reasonable access to unrestricted public records."
At least, it did declare that. But House Bill 477, sponsored in the House by John Dougall and in the Senate by Lyle W. Hillyard, would strike that language, the key text that has guided officials and judges as they weigh the basic need for open government against the few but important times when release of certain documents could be damaging to private individuals.
The bill would also place beyond public view a great deal of what the Legislature does, particularly through such new media as text messages and voice mail. And the measure would create an absurdly difficult obstacle course of bureaucratic and financial barriers that would make the open records process so difficult and expensive as to be beyond the means of many media outlets and most private citizens.
Lawmakers were heard to complain this week, as they often have before, that making their communications public is too risky for their constituents, citizens who might write, e-mail or text their representatives with personal stories of illness or victimhood that figure in their position on pending legislation. But that is a disingenuous ruse, ignorant of the fact that the law already provides for keeping private details private.
GRAMA, like any law, is the product of human enterprise and, thus, flawed. But attempts to fix those flaws, real or imagined, should be slow, deliberate and, most of all, public.
To rush such major and, by all appearances, deliberately damaging legislation into law with so little consideration and public debate is not worthy of our Legislature and downright destructive of good government.