GRAMA’s first working group

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Governor Gary Herbert, President Michael Waddoups and Speaker Becky Lockhart started today’s meeting by expressing the desire for the working group to actually work on GRAMA, to maintain openness and transparency and to balance personal right to privacy with the need for “sunshine.”

The group then introduced themselves. Among the 25 people at the table were 3 people who participated in the original passage of the GRAMA bill 20 years ago, a media attorney, several newspaper editors, a couple of bloggers, 8 legislators, a former Supreme Court justice and a student body president. Some on the committee focused on using new technology to better archive and access records – put more records online, for example. Others want to address who should bear the costs of producing and copying records but underlying the entire discussion was the question of “where’s the line” between what is public and private.

John Fellowes, General Counsel with the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, gave a history of GRAMA. In 1988, an archives task force worked on preparing legislation for openness. The first 3 proposed bills did not pass. 1989 saw another task force and over a period of two years, came up with a bill. In 1991, HB 246, the original GRAMA bill, was introduced on the 33rd day as a boxcar bill. It was heard by the Education Committee on day 40, the last day for committee meetings, where the bill was substituted with a major revision in the bill. The House and Senate passed it the last day of the session, noting that it would need to be revised. The next year, the bill revising GRAMA in a major way was introduced on day 31, never had a standing committee hearing, passed the House on the 44th day and the Senate on the 45th day. In other words, after several years of discussion (like changes to the GRAMA law), the bill was passed relatively quickly, with the expectation it would need revisions the very next year.

Laura Lockhart from AG’s office was there when HB 246 passed. She believes that a lot of the issues coming up are related to deliberative process and the ability for government entities to have internal discussions. She said as the law was written, calendars and personal notes were NOT considered GRAMA-able. Jeff Hunt, attorney for the Utah Media Coalition, admits that personal notes were not meant to be GRAMA-able. However, during this year’s District 57 boundary debate, a hand-written note by the Speaker of the House was requested and received via GRAMA. It is clear that even “simple matters” like personal notes are actually not all that simple.

Ric Cantrell, Deputy of the Senate, read a list of 36 questions this group will be working on answering. I’d like to invite readers to submit additional questions they would like to see addressed. The group will meet again next week, on Wednesday morning at 9 am. Like this week’s meeting, it will be live-streamed over the Internet. Also, today’s Twitter stream was lively and interactive. If you’re on Twitter, check out the hashtags #GRAMA, #utpol and #HB477. To listen to today’s proceedings, go here for Real Player and here for mp3 or straight to the Vox Populi site.

One interesting side note – our federal officials from both the House and Senate – AND their staffs – are completely exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.  No documentation on any subject is available via GRAMA.

Finally, I support the repeal of HB 477 on Friday.  We need to just start over.  I look forward to working with the rest of the members of the GRAMA group and all interested members of the public over the next little while to strike the right balance with GRAMA reform.

To read more, you can go to the Trib, the DNews, Fox13, or ABC4.

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6 Responses to “GRAMA’s first working group”

  1. L. Hatch Says:

    At the Federal Level there is also the ability to go in and change an official record. A senator may say the sky is fuschia in real time then think about it and go in and change the record to say the sky is blue. Then record of his misguided or false satement forever is deleted from the official record. It’s like it never happened. Really?

    This point was brought up in a municipality work session when I objected to an official changing the minutes of meeting to reflect what he wished he had said instead of what he really said in the meeting. (His words were in my opinion outrageous.) The changes made altered the context and made follow up comments sound silly. Obviously changing the record of the meeting was the wrong thing to do and it was eventually reversed.

    The way to change the record is to make a new one. At the next meeting admit the error, make a new statement of understanding and move forward. Don’t try to alter an event to indicate it never happened.

    The one who has the power to make the rules can make those rules to protect themselves. But I don’t believe that is the right course to take. One of my concerns with HB 477 is the explicit exemptions for the legislature to not comply with state statutes. For example, it exempts them from most of The Public Records Management Act.

    So under HB 477 the legislature would not have to follow rules on how records are gathered and stored. They also could legally destroy or mutilate government records without consequence. And it would bar the attorney general from taking posession of legislative records to keep them safe.

    I question whether that is good public policy. I don’t think so. I hope the legislature and this committee will take a close look at why they should exempt themselves from openess as the makers of the rules.

    That Federal officials exempt themselves from FOI should not be the basis for exempting the legislature from transparency and openess.

  2. Jennifer Says:

    ….I like the idea of amending Grama to put everything online and searchable via computer. With improved technology anything but complete transparancy is absurd….and this includes personal emails sent by constituents to their representatives (which seems to me to be more of an excuse than anything). There is no such thing as privacy when you are expecting a public figure to do something on your behalf. Also Congressman and Senators (as well as their staff) should not be excluded.

  3. Rob Says:

    Thanks for keeping us in the loop about what’s going on, Holly.

  4. What they didn't teach in law school Says:

    […] GRAMA’s first working group (hollyonthehill.wordpress.com) […]

  5. JBT Says:

    Someone needs to take up the banner to push to have someone from the Utah State Records Committee involved in this group. How about you Holly?

  6. hollyonthehill Says:

    I’ve talked to people from the Records Committee. They are there at every meeting and very willing to help. It certainly makes sense to have them at the table, so to speak.

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