Staff Column: Some important notes about HB 477 and you
Note 1: Public information should be yours.
I had someone call me yesterday and ask me why, if we are a local newspaper, we are reporting so heavily on House Bill 477.
"I think you are reporting on this because it will affect the media and you guys won't be able to dig up stuff on people," said the voice on the other end of the phone. "You are just looking for dirt."
Well, it may appear that way to some. I answered him and told him the things that I am going to tell you in this column.
First, I believe it is the right of every citizen to know as much as they can about their government and the people who run it.
Secondly, without that ability things go on that shouldn't.
It's as simple as that. I have had many conversations with legislators over the last few days about HB 477, and I can understand some of their points of view.
But to fix those problems let's not throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water.
The legislative process is a messy one. People just don't propose bills and get them passed at a whim, usually.
But it seemed last week that HB 477 did just that. The opposition within both branches of the legislature was very small and it zoomed through both houses and onto the governors desk like Flash Gordon's ship through the atmosphere of Mongo (okay, I am really dating myself now).
Usually there are committee hearings where legislators debate and propose changes. Once reaching the floor there is real debate, with at least two sides deliberating. Often amendments are proposed and first, second and third readings take some time.
So unless the bill is some resolution proposing that some special day be set aside to honor a popular person in the state or to proclaim a day spinning top day, things just don't move like butter in a tipped over hot frying pan.
But then, those that greased the pan for this bill found themselves in a sticky situation. They knew the media would cry and moan about this change in public information, but little did they realize that the citizens themselves would start to organize and jump on their freshly hatched scheme like a hungry dog on a steak.
The fight about this bill is about you and your rights, not the medias rights. Sure we use the Government Records Access Management Act (GRAMA) to get information, but over 70 percent of the GRAMA requests that come in to local and state government are from private citizens trying to find out something.
Note 2: Unlikely hero.
Few people in this state don't know who Chris Buttars is. The Republican State Senator from West Jordan has often been criticized for his positions and even more often for what comes out of his mouth. People have even gone so far as to criticize his district for re-electing him year after year.
So here is a man who would have every reason to jump on the medias potato chip bag with both feet. But in the end, he didn't. He was the only Senator to vote nay on HB 477 when it came before his chamber for a vote last Friday. He said it was rushed through the legislature too fast, without any deliberation. Here's to you Chris!
Note 3: Dumb comments.
One of the comments heard about this bill from legislators was that they wanted to pass it this year, because it was a non-election year and people would forget that it happened.
That's like meeting a man on the street and having him say he will mug you next week at the same place, same time. Duh! I think most of us might remember that.