Daily Fix, April 13

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The 3rd meeting of the GRAMA working group took place this morning. Among the items discussed: technology, protecting the public as they contact elected officials and response time on filling GRAMA requests. Much of the debate actually centered on protecting the public but that didn’t get nearly as much play as legislator’s grocery lists. (And if you want to see mine, maybe I can just post it every Saturday, along with our menu for the week. I have no problem sharing that information.)

*Some of the questions arose regarding the idea of protected bills and whether the “vetting” of those bills should be done with smaller focus groups or open to all. John Fellowes, the Legislature’s general counsel, gave the idea of a lawmaker 20 years ago who floated the idea of the “Bambi Barbecue Bill”. It would have allowed a driver who hit and killed a deer to harvest the venison. The bill fizzled (rightly so), without ever becoming widely known. SL Trib

*As reported by Billy Hesterman, lawmakers also expressed their concern that constituents’ emails to legislators could become subject to a GRAMA request. Adams said he has a constituent who has emailed him regularly who is suicidal. Adams argued those emails are an example of communications that probably shouldn’t be made available to the public. I don’t believe most constituents realize their emails could be made public. (And btw, I absolutely do not support back room deals – but if there are lawmakers who want to make those kind of deals, they will find a way to do it.) Daily Herald

*The DNews cites a recent poll done by BYU that only 2% of voters thought legislators privacy was the most important consideration. Number one was openness, number 2 was constituent privacy. I agree, although if it were a weighted scale, the top two would be very close to equal. What do you think – should constituents have some expectation of privacy when they contact elected officials on any level? Or should they know that all communication could be made public? DNews

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9 Responses to “Daily Fix, April 13”

  1. Daniel B. Says:

    Holly: I’ve seen your family at parades (among other places)–I can’t imagine what it takes to go grocery shopping for them.

  2. hollyonthehill Says:

    We love Costco…..

  3. Renee Says:

    I was listening in yesterday and I was very excited to hear a group member ask Fellows and lawmakers to drop the “outlandish hypotheticals.” Someone I think Paul Edwards asked “have any of these things EVER happened?” and Fellows replied “Well, no.”
    On constituent privacy I really don’t know anyone worried about it more than at least some guarantee of an open government. And let’s be honest the people David Kirkham knows who are worried about it more than anything else are the ones sending hate email to lawmakers over HB116. Would it really be so bad if they had to own their hate should a name or two be printed in the paper? The law already protects medical info or personal contact info a constituent might include in an email. If a constituent is worried about the content of their email to a lawmaker becoming public, is what they are emailing in really that productive? Probably not.

  4. Jacob Says:

    I think constituent privacy is being used by our public officials as a means of ensuring their own privacy, and nothing more. If you are concerned for your constituent’s privacy, can I recommend you add a “signature” to the bottom of your emails stating under what circumstances the emails could be published, and what information (contact info etc) would be redacted.

    My biggest problem with the entire process, and it doesn’t seem like this has changed, is that there are a few legitimate issues we should be looking at, and the legislature used those issues to as a pawn to protect themselves from possible public oversight.

    As for the names, can’t you see where the same email from different people has different connotations? “I am disappointed in your possition on _________.” Means a lot more if it comes from a big donor, or an LDS church leader than it would if it came from me, for example. I don’t want the decision on which names are important to be made by a politician.

  5. I don't want to look in your window... Says:

    I do not believe these are just hypothetical scenarios. It seems obvious to me that any non-hypothetical scenario must be treated very carefully to avoid exposing sensitive information. The generalizations serve that purpose.

    People send very sensitive medical information when laws are being debated that are relevant. They send sensitive work-related information for the same reason. Legislators need that input. Are you suggesting that people can’t give their legislators that information without everyone seeing it? Do your co-workers and neighbors have the “right” to know that you have a gun in your house? That you have HIV or hepatitis? That you are being sexually harassed at work and fear that you will lose your job if you say anything?

    Is the publics insatiable prurient interest more important that a persons right to communicate sensitive information to their elected official? Are we so intent on catching the bad behavior of a few bad officials that we are willing to force ordinary citizens to choose between sacrificing their privacy (sometimes with significant consequences) or sacrificing their right to communicate with their elected representatives?

  6. Jacob Says:

    “Are we so intent on catching the bad behavior of a few bad officials that we are willing to force ordinary citizens to choose between sacrificing their privacy (sometimes with significant consequences) or sacrificing their right to communicate with their elected representatives?”

    Quite the choice you give there. I guess my short answer is yes. If a constituent is that worried about something being released they shouldn’t be putting it in an email or text message to begin with.

    Perhaps I am mistaken, but isn’t medical information already on the list of what would normally be redacted?

  7. I don't want to look in your window... Says:

    Not necessarily. Nothing can be pre-categorized as private (see http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ut-supreme-court/1447458.html – footnote 5). The determination can only be made by a judge who weighs the “public interest” in the information against the privacy of the individuals involved.

    I prefer laws that preclude activist judges from exposing anything they find interesting or politically useful. Ours is a county based on the rule of law – not the rule of judges.

  8. markg91359 Says:

    Anyone who communicates with a public official ought to realize there is no expectation of privacy in that communication. The only exception I can think of is intrafamily communications between the official and his wife/kids, etc.

    What people who dream up these bizarre hypotheticals about sick people sharing health information with a legislature failure to realize is that this is only the smallest part of the problem. The real problem has to do with lobbyists, business people, and those in positions of power approaching legislators and using their influence to obtain special favors. Unless all such activities can be clearly held up “to the light of day” we’ll continue to have government in secrecy that is run by a few special interests.

    Utah is a one-party state. The democrats have not held a majority in either the Senate or the House since 1976. One party states lack the checks and balances that viable two-party states have. This makes it all the more important that we have a very expansive GRAMA law that requires full disclosure of *all* contacts our public officials have and what their purposes are.

    Republicans in the legislature can try to hide the truth and obfuscate reality all they want. Legislators who truly had nothing to hide wouldn’t make such a fuss about the GRAMA law.

  9. L. Hatch Says:

    I have not had a chance to listen to the 3rd meeting yet, so I hesitate to comment, but …

    Constituent Privacy:

    Information about individuals come into the hands of government in various ways. The first is information that government legally and actively collects. As a citizen I should have a certain expectation of privacy for this information. For example, I am required to file a tax return. I should have the expectation that my social security number and other sensitive data will be protected. Ditto for medical records at government funded hospitals, etc. These kinds of things are already protected (under GRAMA, hippa, and other Federal statutes) and I don’t think that is where there is conflict.

    The second type of information is what I submit voluntarily. If I submit information by e-mail to a legislator in an effort to impact public policy should I have the expectation that it is private?

    In theory, I would say no. If it is about public policy it is part of the public discourse. Recently, a local planning commission was flooded with 30+ e-mails about a particular agenda item. Many of them probably rancorous, I don’t know. At the meeting it was announced that those e-mails would become part of the public record. It seems fair to me.

    Knowing that your communications can become part of the public record may alter your word choice and help you to be committed to fact check (take a deep breath, if you will) before just throwing it out there. So in essence I see it as a good thing. It fosters accountability, and probably helps better more accurate information make it into the public policy arena. I think being accountable for your e-mails to legislators might also, qualify as poliltical courage.

    One of the roles of an elected official is to educate their constituency. Posting notice that e-mails could become (or are) part of the public record would be a start.

    Still, I recognize there are stories and details that maybe a constituent is uncomfortable sharing with everyone. I have been there myself. Maybe I just want to share the emotional side of an issue. That is best done in the old fashioned way – a phone call or personal conversation. Then I can follow up the conversation with a thank you e-mail memorializing the substance but not the detail of the conversation.

    There are also those that don’t mind the comments being public, they just don’t want their names tied to it. I think there is a place for “anonymous free speech.” Think Publius … The comments on this blog are in a way anonymous free speech. No one knows if correct names are being used, and I certainly don’t know anyone named, “I don’t want to look in your window…” Ideas can still be put out there in this way, but those viewing the ideas may give less crediblity to statements made by anonymous sources.

    GRAMA does have provisions for protecting information that would clearly be an invasion of privacy. I seems to have done a good job, so far. And though hypotheticals are brought up – I haven’t heard a documented example of invasion of constituent’s privacy.

    I am also a little leary and fatigued by the way the DesNews vs. Salt Lake County Supreme Court ruling is being played as the GRAMA boogey man. Really? I have read the ruling. Where is the smoking gun?

    I hope that in an effort to protect the privacy of Grocery lists, etc. that laws are not passed that take away accountability and transparency for the political process.

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