Utah Legislature Watch: See what happens when voters pay attention?

So It's A Crime Scene?

Image by makelessnoise via Flickr

House Bill 477 has caused quite the stir up on Capitol Hill, Utah. Let me explain…

No, there is too much. Let me sum up:

Last week, Rep. John Dougall presented House Bill 477 to limit GRAMA (Government Records Access and Management Act) requests from including text messages and instant messages. Within 72 hours, it had passed both House and Senate. Meanwhile, the press and public, not having ever heard of HB 477 before Dougall introduced it, went to work and, in a word, freaked. Commentators and academics started comparing Utah to third world countries like Mexico.

“Point after point, Utah’s record laws are going to be more backward than a Third World country’s,” David Cuillier, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Arizona, said Sunday. “That’s not hyperbole.”

Cuillier pointed out that the Mexican Freedom of Information Act specifies that electronic records be public, greatly restricts what the government can charge for records and places the burden on the government to show why something should not be disclosed.

The Utah bill, HB477, would prohibit the disclosure of text messages and instant messages, allow government agencies to charge fees that can include administrative and overhead costs and require requesters wanting records protected by the government to show with a preponderance of evidence the records should be released.

“In Mexico they favor disclosure, not secrecy,” Cuillier said. “In Utah it would be the other way around.”

Then, just as suddenly as the bill appeared on the docket, legislators started back tracking. First this morning was Sen. Dan Liljenquist, a likely candidate for the US Senate in 2012:

Right behind him was another federal office hopeful, Rep. Carl Wimmer:

And then Holly Richardson, the House’s newest Representative who had gone to bat for the bill on her blog before taking a second look at the issue:

That wasn’t the end of it. Jesse Fruhwirth of the City Weekly reported that Democrats who had supported it were having buyers remorse, as well:

He also compiled a list of legislators who were backtracking that included Sen. John Valentine (a likely candidate for Utah’s Attorney General post) .

Currently, the bill is not dead, but with a threat of a veto hanging over it (a visit to the Governor’s Office will do that), not to mention a full scale public backlash that is as immediate as rallies, phone calls, emails, and 140 characters of Twitter can provide.

Herbert’s office issued a statement last week saying only that “this is a highly charged issue with strong emotions on both sides. He will carefully consider this issue and weigh all options.” Also, Herbert has said he was not involved in drafting the bill.” His office did not immediately comment on developments on Monday.

Meanwhile, the bill is currently in “recall,” meaning it could still be passed. Sen. Waddups, President of the Senate, and Speaker Lockhart have both indicated that they have no interest in angering constituents or fighting a veto from the Governor.

I can’t help but note that the first two people to respond were two politicians with big ambitions for high federal office. Those that followed shortly there after had similar ambitions, if for other elective offices. That’s the power of voters showing up, not just on election day, but when it matters.

Meanwhile, intrepid reporter Billy Hesterman wonders about how popular Angry Birds is up at the Utah legislature.

I can’t wait to see that GRAMA request roll through the House.

APROPOS: Kudos to former candidate Jeremy Votaw for getting love from Paul Rolly in the Trib for Votaw’s online petition to get HB477 vetoed.

(h/t to the City Weekly, the Salt Lake Tribune, and, of course, all of #utpol on Twitter)

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4 responses to “Utah Legislature Watch: See what happens when voters pay attention?

  1. hollyonthehill

    I have no ambitions to run for state-wide or federal office. Just in case you were wondering….And, I’ve updated my blog.

    • I know… didn’t I say the first two? I was trying to demonstrate the very real check on elected power–the ballot box. And I had always assumed that you had ambitions for further elected office. I would be very disappointed if such were not the truth. I think you carry your office (as you would other further offices) well.

  2. Pingback: Utah Legislature Watch: The HB477 Working Group is Up | What they didn't teach in law school

  3. Pingback: What they didn't teach in law school

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