RIP-Utah HB477 Repealed: Why it was Necessary (Draft)

We do need a revamped Government Records Access Management Act (GRAMA), but not like this. House Bill 477 codified legislative secrecy into law--that's what was wrong with it. I agree with Senator Steve Urquhart, Republican of St. George, Utah, who said that ""It is my opinion that we simply messed up. It was no one's fault but ours." I'm glad it was repealed. Now, let's do it right.
I received an email from my State Senator, Mark Madsen, Republican of Eagle Mountain, a couple of nights ago, which was very heated and arrogant. The email excoriated the media for its efforts in derailing House Bill 477. Who does he think we commoners are, mincemeat?

Here is my email reply to him:
Senator Madsen:

You wrote: "I have to wonder why the media would not want this public discussion and debate to take place.  "

The media AND the people WANT the debate to take place, which, it seemed to us, actually, that the legislature didn't. We do not want an apparently carte blanche law that seems to allow the state legislature to keep what should be supposedly public deliberations in the dark.  There was very little trust among the people, including most Republicans, that anything would happen to fix the bill before July 1st, considering that it was rushed through in the last few days of the legislative session.

It appears to me that the new law says that the GRAMA act, with the exception of documents that have become officially certified state documents, does not apply to the legislature.  If so, that is not right. It is much more nuanced than that. I hold open the possibility that I am wrong, and would welcome your reply to explain the details of why I might be incorrect.

Clearly something needs to be done to bring the Govt Records Access Mgmt Act up to date, but NOT the way it was done.  Contrary to what Speaker Lockhart said, it WAS a huge mistake to have it hidden and then quickly passed into law the way it was. The best and cleanest way to take care of this, and to get back the confidence of the people, is to repeal the law on Friday March 25th and take time to do it right.
HB 477 was thankfully repealed, but not with the help of Senator Madsen. Madsen was one of 5 Senators--all Republicans--and 3 Representatives--too, all Republicans--who think the legislature should have the privilege of secrecy and who think the people of Utah don't matter.

Here is the "enrolled" copy of House Bill 477--i.e. the version that passed the Utah Legislature a couple of weeks ago.

Granted there are some really good things in it, such as in 63G-2-203 on page 23 of the bill, which states, among other things that
A governmental entity may charge a reasonable fee for processing requests for a record under this chapter in an amount sufficient to cover the governmental entity's actual cost of providing a record, including costs of overhead and administration.

A governmental entity may choose to fulfill a record request without fee or cost assessment, or for a reduced fee or cost assessment if it determines...that waiving or reducing the fee or cost assessment is an appropriate use of taxpayer funds and resources;

But there are some pretty surprisingly bad things in it as well.

Page 14 of House Bill 477 says, for example, says that most of Title 63A Chapter 12--a portion of the Government Records Access Management Act--does not apply to the State Legislature. Part of what no longer applied to the legislature until HB 477's repeal was the requirement to work with the state archivist to ensure that the legislature's records of business are correctly and officially archived.

To say that that's a bad thing is an understatement.  But it gets worse.

Look at page 20 of HB 477 (here's the link to the PDF document again). It does, by way of implication, say that emails are public records (although not legislators' private email addresses, which I agree with), but from there it says that

  • voice mails are never to be considered public records, regardless of whether those voice mails pertain to public legislative business.
  • text messages are never to be considered public records, regardless of whether those text messages pertain to legislative business.
  • "a note prepared by an employee or officer of a governmental entity for the employee's or officer's own use or reference" is never considered a public record.
  • Any kind of chat message (text, video, etc.) is never considered a public record, regardless of whether those chat messages pertain to legislative business. 
The business of a legislator is by definition public. I have a hard time (although I've never been a state legislator, I have been a member of city council) understanding why a legislator would be afraid of having that information public.

I you say something that you later disagree with, you can admit it without shame. If you say something stupid, you can apologize; I do that all the time on my Facebook page. But whether or not you as a legislator say something sinister, we have a right to know about it.

...Developing....check back later...


  1. One of the House members who voted against repeal was a Democrat. I wouldn't be surprised to see him be the token Democrat on the redistricting commission.


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